Food With Sulphur Dioxide


Food With Sulphur Dioxide. Sulphur Dioxide is a chemical that occurs naturally in some foods, primarily fruits and vegetables. It’s also used as an additive to prevent spoilage in other raw foods. Studies have linked exposure to Sulphur Dioxide gas at high concentrations with serious health problems, including difficulty breathing and swelling of the throat, nose and eyes.

Related Post: do carrots improve eyesight

Food With Sulphur Dioxide

Certain food groups tend to use sulfur dioxide as a preservative more often than others.

  • Pickled foods
  • Maraschino cherries
  • Tinned coconut milk
  • Beer, wine, and cider
  • Vegetable juice
  • Soft drinks
  • Grape juice
  • Bottled lemon and lime juice
  • Condiments
  • Powdered prepared potatoes
  • Frozen shrimp
  • Some processed meats

Is Sulfur Dioxide Dangerous?

The name sulfur dioxide doesn’t exactly sound appetizing, but is it safe for consumers? If you have asthma or a sulfite allergy, it’s definitely not good for you. A study published in the British Journal of Diseases of the Chest found that it’s safe for most people, but it can induce asthma in those that are sensitive to it.

Extensive testing done by the World Health Organization and the International Program on Chemical Safety found that sulfites could negatively impact asthmatics, but in some cases, other individuals not considered sensitive may also experience similar side effects. Studies have not found sulfur dioxide to be a human carcinogen, though a study published in the journal Mutagenesis did find that sulfur dioxide could cause DNA damage and cancer in mice.

It should be noted that in 1986 the FDA banned the use of sulfites, a larger group of food preservatives that contains sulfur dioxide, for use in fresh fruits and vegetables. The preservative was often used in restaurants and food retailers to make fresh fruits and vegetables appear fresher for longer periods of time, but it was banned after it resulted in 13 asthmatic deaths, according to the New York Times.

How to Avoid Sulfur Dioxide

Organic brands of dried fruits do not contain sulfur dioxide. While organic dried fruits won’t last as long as conventional dried fruits because they don’t contain the preservative, you can freeze them so that they last longer.

While sulfites are naturally occurring in wine, sometimes the preservative is also added to further protect shelf life. Look for wine labels that say “no added sulfites.” If you’re unsure whether a product contains sulfites, call the company to find out.

Related Post: banana health benefits

The Health Risks of Sulfur Dioxide in Dried Fruits

The Health Risks of Sulfur Dioxide in Dried Fruits

Sulfur dioxide might not sound good enough to eat, but this food preservative does make its way into a number of edibles, including dried fruits such as raisins, dried apricots and prunes. Sulfur dioxide is one type of sulfite, a preservative whose name might be more familiar. Even a small amount of sulfite can wreak health havoc if you’re sensitive to it. If you have asthma, sulfite sensitivity, or sulfite allergy, eating dried fruits might cause serious health problems, including breathing problems, life-threatening allergy-like symptoms, or, in rare cases, death.

Sulfites in Dried Fruits

Dried fruits are among the foods highest in sulfites, with raisins and prunes containing between 500 and 2,000 parts per million. By comparison, wine — a food thought by many to be high in sulfites — contains between 20 and 350 parts per million. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration mandates that foods containing more than 10 parts per million of sulfites must list this information on the food label. Countries have different standards for sulfites. The Australian government limits the number of sulfites in foods to 3,000 ppm, while the British government limits sulfites in food to 2,000 ppm.

Asthma and Sulfite Sensitivity

If you have asthma, you have a much higher risk of developing a reaction to sulfur dioxide than a person without asthma. By contrast, if you don’t have asthma, you have a very low risk of having sulfite sensitivity, a condition that causes asthma-like symptoms such as wheezing and difficulty breathing. While only around 1 percent of Americans overall have sulfite sensitivity, between 5 and 10 percent of asthmatics might react to sulfites. If you eat dried fruit, always have your inhaler and other asthma or allergy medications on hand. Seek immediate attention if you can’t breathe, start wheezing, develop hives, facial swelling or collapse.

Sulfite Allergy

Sulfites are inorganic salts and don’t contain the proteins that cause true allergic reactions to foods. Fruits themselves do contain a small amount of protein and can cause a true allergic reaction. If you develop asthma-like symptoms, hives, facial swelling, or a rash after eating dried fruits, you could have an allergy to fruit rather than sulfite sensitivity, although the symptoms might be very similar. A sulfite reaction can cause symptoms very similar to an allergic reaction, such as wheezing and difficulty breathing.

Related Post: sweet potato health benefits

Sulfite-Related Deaths

Approximately 20 known deaths have occurred as a result of severe sulfite sensitivity. Death from sulfite sensitivity occurs from anaphylaxis, a severe sensitivity or allergic reaction that causes the collapse of the circulatory system and throat swelling. If you have severe sulfite sensitivity, ask your doctor to order injectable adrenaline and carry it with you at all times.

Avoiding Sulfite in Dried Fruit

To avoid sulfites in dried fruit, choose organic brands that don’t use preservatives including sulfur dioxide, in their produce. Organic dried fruits won’t last as long as fruits containing preservatives, but freezing fruit will extend its shelf life.

Sulphur Dioxide and Sulphites

What are sulphur dioxide and sulphites used for?

Sulphur dioxide and sulphites (E220-E228) are generally used for their preservative effects.

What foods are permitted to contain sulphur dioxide and sulphites?

Sulphur dioxide and sulphites are permitted in a wide range of foods including dried fruits, breakfast sausages and burger meats (with a minimum vegetable and/or cereal content of 4%). Full details of the range of foods to which they can be added, and maximum levels allowed, can be found in Regulation 1333/2008/EC or by searching the EU database of food additives.

What amount is permitted for use in breakfast sausages and burger meat?

The maximum permitted amount of sulphur dioxide or sulphites in breakfast sausages and burger meat (with a minimum vegetable and/or cereal content of 4%) is 450mg/kg (total of all sulphites). Manufacturers of these products should be aware that seasoning mixes and other ingredients used in the manufacture of these products may already contain these additives and this should be taken into account. These additives cannot be used in breakfast sausages or burger meats with a vegetable and/or cereal content of less than 4%.

How should sulphur dioxide and sulphites be labelled on a product?

Sulphur dioxide and sulphites are considered allergens (under Regulation (EU) No. 1169/2011 on the provision of food information to consumers) and can cause reactions in certain people, especially those sensitive to asthma. Therefore, for prepacked foods, their presence in a food or beverage must be indicated on the label, by its full name, where the level exceeds 10mg/kg or 10mg/L (expressed as SO2).

The additive must be listed in the list of ingredients by its functional class followed by its name e.g. Preservative: Sulphur dioxide. It is not sufficient to label just the E number.

For products where a list of ingredients is not required (e.g. alcoholic beverages with >1.2% by volume of alcohol) the presence of the allergen must still be indicated on the label e.g. ‘contains sulphur dioxide’.

In the case of wine, previous legislation granted certain derogations in relation to allergen information and must be taken into account when reading the information provided on wine bottles. Find more information on the derogations

Please Note: 

Since 13th December 2014, foods prepared by catering establishments (e.g. restaurants, hotels, etc.), foods presented or sold loose, or foods packaged on-site for direct sale to the final consumer (e.g. delis, takeaways) are required to indicate the presence of allergenic ingredients, including the above additives, where they are present at greater than 10mg/kg or 10mg/L. For more information on how to declare this information please see our leaflet Allergen Information for Non-prepacked Food

Related Post: health benefits of tomatoes

How sulphur dioxide is used in food preservation

Sulphur dioxide

(also known as SO2, Sulfur Dioxide or E220)


Why is Sulphur Dioxide used?

It is sometimes used as a preservative for dried apricots and other dried fruits owing to its antimicrobial properties, (it is sometimes called E220 when used in this way.)

As a preservative, it maintains the appearance of the fruit and prevents rotting.

Sulphur dioxide is produced naturally when wine and beer are made and it is often added to wine to stop it from continuing to ferment in the bottle.

Sometimes used as a preservative, it is safe to consume for the vast majority of people.

What about our products?

Many people enquire in our shops about it, so we thought we’d clear up any misconceptions!

A few of the products we stock contain SO2, it is clearly labeled (as SO2, occasionally as Sulphur Dioxide) in the ingredients, both on the web description and on the product packaging.

What does the Food Standards Agency Say?

“Sulphur dioxide is widely used as a preservative. Limits are set for the amount allowed in food to protect consumers – too much can cause an upset stomach.

The maximum level for soft drinks (as sold) is set at 350 milligrams per liter for lime and lemon juice and barley water, and 250 milligrams per liter for squash.

Sulphur dioxide can trigger an attack at low levels in some people with asthma, but they can avoid foods containing sulphites by checking the label.”

How long has SO2 been used in this way?

The use of sulphur dioxide is not modern technology.

Dating back to the fifteenth century, wine traders burned sulphur candles in their wine barrels prior to filling them.

It is naturally produced by wine yeast in small quantities during fermentation. However, the majority of sulphur dioxide is added into the alcohol.

Sulphur dioxide has strong anti-bacterial properties that help prevent bacteria and yeast from growing in the wine and to permit a longer aging process.

Related Post: health benefits of spinach

I’m sensitive to sulphur dioxide, any tips?

Have a look at our article on sulphite sensitivities here, it’s got a guide on foods to avoid and wine that is low in sulphur.

What You Need to Know About Sulphites

bowl of dried apricots which contain sulphites

Sulphites are substances that are naturally found in some foods.  They are used as an additive to maintain food color, and shelf-life and prevent the growth of fungi or bacteria.  Sulphites are also used in food packaging like cellophane.

What foods and drinks have sulphites?

Foods and drinks that often contain sulphites include:

  • Canned and frozen fruits and vegetables
  • Fruit and vegetables juices
  • Fruit fillings and syrups, jams, jellies and other preserves
  • Dried fruits and vegetables, like apricots, coconut, raisins and sweet potato
  • Cereal, cornmeal, cornstarch, crackers and muesli
  • Dehydrated, mashed, peeled and pre-cut potatoes, including French fries
  • Tomato pastes, pulps and purees
  • Condiments like horseradish, ketchup, mustard, pickles and relishes
  • Vinegar and wine vinegar
  • Bottled lemon and lime juices and concentrates
  • Alcoholic and non-alcoholic wine, beer and cider

These foods may also contain sulphites:

  • Baked goods, including granola bars (especially with dried fruits)
  • Deli meats, hot dogs and sausages
  • Dressings, gravies, sauces and soups
  • Dehydrated fish, crustaceans and shellfish
  • Noodle and rice mixes
  • Soy products

Other items that may contain sulphites include:

  • Gelatin or pectin
  • Sweeteners like dextrose, glucose solids and syrup and molasses
  • Medications and pharmaceuticals

Sulphites are not allowed on fresh vegetables and fruits (except sliced potatoes and raw grapes).  They are also not allowed on pre-packaged meat, poultry and fish (other than tuna and crustaceans).

Are sulphites listed in the ingredient list of packaged foods?

In Canada, sulphites must be listed on the package label. Canadian guidelines require that sulphite-containing products are clearly labelled. The ingredient list will say “contains: sulphites” if it contains this ingredient. It may also say “May contain sulphites” if there is a chance the product has come into contact with sulphites.

Related Post: health benefits of garlic

What are other names for sulphites?

Sulphites can have many other names, such as:

  • Potassium bisulphite
  • Potassium metabisulphite
  • Sodium bisulphite
  • Sodium dithionite
  • Sodium metabisulphite
  • Sodium sulphite
  • Sulphur dioxide
  • Sulphurous acid
  • Sulphites
  • Sulfites
  • Sulfiting or sulphating agents

Are sulphites safe to eat?

Yes, for most people.  However, some people have sulphite sensitivity and may react to sulphites with allergy-like symptoms. 

What is sulphite sensitivity?

A sulphite sensitivity is when the body reacts to consuming sulphites.  Sulphite sensitive people may have a similar reaction as those with a food allergy.  Sulphites can trigger asthma and symptoms of an anaphylactic reaction.  Many people who have asthma may also have a sulphite sensitivity. An allergist can confirm sulphite sensitivity. In this case, sulphites need to be avoided.

Do sulphites cause headaches and migraines?

It’s unclear.  More research is needed to understand the link between sulphites and migraines.  If you think sulphites may be the cause of your migraines, take note of what you ate and drank before your migraine started and talk to your dietitian or healthcare provider.

Should I avoid eating sulphites?

Only if you have sulphite sensitivity.  You can prevent a sulphite reaction by avoiding all food and products with sulphites. Keep these helpful tips in mind: 

  • Look at the ingredients list and avoid foods that say “contains: sulphites.”
  • Avoid foods that say “may contain” or “may contain traces” of sulphites on the label.
  • If you are unsure if a product contains sulphites, contact the manufacturer. Many food packages have contact information on them.
  • Don’t take chances. Avoid foods that do not have a clear ingredient list.  This includes avoiding imported products, as they do not always have an accurate food label.
  • Be informed. Sign up for the Canadian Food Inspection Agency’s (CFIA) free email “Food Recalls and Allergy Alerts” notification service.
  • Avoid bulk foods where the ingredient lists are not clear and may have come in contact with other bulk items containing sulphites.
  • When eating out, ask if sulphite-containing foods are used.  Call ahead if you can.
  • Ask at the grocery store if the sliced potatoes, raw grapes and pre-packaged tuna and crustaceans contain sulphites.

How can a dietitian help?

A dietitian can work with you to personalize your diet based on your sensitivities, preferences and lifestyle. For example, a dietitian can help you identify sources of sulphites in your diet and suggest alternatives so that you are eating a balanced diet. They can also help you read and understand food labels. Most employee benefit plans cover dietitian services. Connect with a dietitian today!

Bottom line

Sulphites are safe for most people. You can still eat a healthy balanced diet following Canada’s Food Guide if you have a sulphite sensitivity. If you aren’t sure if a product contains sulphites, don’t take any chances.  Carefully read the ingredient list of food products every time to avoid a sulphite-related reaction. 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

TheSuperHealthyFood © Copyright 2022. All rights reserved.