What is sodium benzoate?
Sodium benzoate is a food preservative and protects against yeasts, moulds, and certain types of bacteria. It is currently approved for use in Canada, the USA, the EU, Austalia, and New Zealand.
As a food preservative, sodium benzoate (NaC6H5CO2) seems to be the most commonly used salt of benzoic acid. In its raw form, it appears as a white crystalline powder. In chemistry, the term salt is not what we generally think of when we hear salt. Instead, it refers to a particular set of compounds (ionic compounds) that result when an acid is neutralized by a base. In this case, benzoic acid, C6H5COOH, reacts with sodium carbonate (Na2CO3).
Sodium benzoate is a very common food preservative. It is used in soft drinks, pickles, fruit juices and salad dressings.
It seems that because of the amount of bad publicity surrounding the use of sodium benzoate (see below), many company’s are looking for alternatives. I’ve read that in the UK, Diet Coke has switched to a combination of potassium benzoate and citric acid instead of sodium benzoate.3 However, in Canada, sodium benzoate is still clearly listed as an ingredient in these products.
Some specific examples of products that list sodium benzoate as an ingredient include:
Health Issues / Side Effects
There have been reports that people suffering from asthma, aspirin sensitivity, or urticaria may have allergic reactions and/or find that their symptoms become worse after eating foods containing benzoic acid. This may be particularly true if the foods also contain tartrazine (E102).1
There has also been some concern that benzoic acid and its salts may react with ascorbic acid in soft drinks, forming small quantities of benzene.2 This is a worry because benzene is toxic and linked to many forms of cancer
At least one study found evidence that sodium benzoate could cause damage to DNA that may be linked to cirrhosis of the liver and Parkinson’s disease.4 In this case, there is an argument that because the study used yeast cells which are more prone to damage than other animal cells, the conclusions cannot be applied to human consumption.
If all of that isn’t enough, the UK foods standard agency has produced studies that may link artificial food colours, used in combination with sodium benzoate, to hyperactivity in children.5
The E number sodium benzoate is 211.
If you’re concerned about consuming sodium benzoate, be sure to check the ingredient lists of the products you buy. There are many products that do not use it.
- UK Food Guide – Benzoic Acid
- German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment
- Diet Coke to drop additive in DNA damage fear
- Yeast superoxide dismutase mutants reveal a pro-oxidant action of weak organic acid food preservatives
- Food Standards Agency issues revised advice on certain artificial colours
If you want to read more, try the following links…
Canadian Food Additive Dictionary
FDA Food Additive Status List
UK Foods Standards Agency, Approved Food Additives
Food Standards – Australia and New Zealand