Label Decoder: Sodium Benzoate

by in Label Decoder, June 12, 2009

Many ingredients listed on food labels might as well be in a foreign language. You see the same ones pop up all the time, but do you know what they really mean? In this new series, we’re tackling some common label names — some are perfectly fine for you, others not so much.

First up: sodium benzoate.

What is it?
Sodium benzoate — and its close relatives benzoic acid and potassium benzoate — are preservatives that prevent microorganism (yeast, bacteria, etc.) from growing in acidic foods (think pickles or fruit juice). It’s also common in carbonated drinks such as soda.

Any Risks?
Although the government says that it’s safe for most people to consume, folks who are sensitive to sodium benzoate have reported hives and other allergic-type reactions. Research also points to negative effects on kids who have Attention Deficit-Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).

More alarmingly, sodium benzoate reacts with vitamin C (a.k.a. ascorbic acid) in drinks and forms benzene, a chemical that can lead to leukemia and other cancers. Because of this reaction, the FDA began urging companies in the 1990s to stop combining sodium benzoate and vitamin C; major beverage-makers only began reformulating their drinks after a lawsuit was filed in 2006. Last year, in response to public pressure in Britain, Coca-Cola ditched the preservative from Diet Coke sold there. No plans are in place to remove it from their other sodas in Britain or here in the U.S.

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Comments (5)

  1. Krikri says:

    Its been known for long that preservatives react with other food compounds and produce harmful substances. The Coca Cola example is perfect. Sometimes the food companies would not want to apply the safer alternatives because of expense but with consumer awareness and government legislation, they will produce more wholesome ingredients. But the paradox is this: Not everyone can have fresh food and some situations demand preserved food. For example researchers way out in the field cannot have access to refrigerators to freeze their food. They will have to rely on canned products. So the need for canned foods is real. The question will be how to keep it safe? Manufacturing processes involve expense and companies try to keep it down so they can make profits to pay their employees. So the cycle goes on – consumers need safe foods, companies say safer alternatives may make them lose. So for consumer protection and viability of businesses, government should give companies that research into safe foods some tax rebates so they can constantly find safer alternatives for consumers so in the end both companies and consumers benefit.

  2. Julie says:

    Yes! I’m excited that you’re starting this series. My husband and I have additives we avoid because we know they are bad, but there are a bunch we’re not quite sure about. We should just sit down and research it, but by the time we’re home from the grocery, we can’t remember what the debate was about.
    Thanks for making it easy!

  3. Di says:

    Bravo on that idea and best of luck! The world is changing and people need to realize health
    first. More peole need to group together and go to gov
    and they need to work for us and not make $ on us!!!!!

  4. GFDF says:

    Please include these ingredients in future “decoding” blog entries:

    citric acid
    modified food starch
    caramel color
    autolyzed yeast extract

  5. When I first saw this title Label Decoder: Sodium Benzoate | Healthy Eats – Food Network Healthy Living Blog on google I just whent and bookmark it. Hello. Very cool web site!! Guy .. Excellent .. Amazing .. I will bookmark your site and take the feeds additionally…I am happy to locate numerous useful information here in the article. Thank you for sharing..

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