Sodium Benzoate–A Common Additive–but is it Safe?

by S. K. LeVeille

Sodium benzoate is a synthetic product used to prevent mold and preserve acidic food.  There are natural methods used for this purpose including grape, garlic, green tea, acidophilin, rosemary, and many others.

Most of us have encountered condiment packets at casual dining places.  The packets also come routinely with food delivery.  In the ingredient list of many is “sodium benzoate.”  Examples of condiment packets containing this artificial preservative are hot sauce, duck sauce, soy sauce, and tartar sauce.  The bottled versions of these condiments on store shelves may or may not contain sodium benzoate, check labels.

Sodium benzoate, also known as E211, is sometimes found in certain brands of packaged meat, fish, cheese, pickles, soft drinks, fruit juices, salad dressings, sauerkraut, jellies, and jams. In wine, especially homemade, it can be referred to as “stabilizer” from “stabilizing tablets.”

Because ingredient labels have small print, some people find it helpful to carry a small magnifier in their pocket or purse to help while shopping.  If the ingredient is discovered at home, it may be helpful to make a list of products to avoid in the future.

According the the site, Foodeducate, when sodium benzoate is mixed with ascorbic acid (vitamin C), it transforms into benzene.  In addition, Naturally Savvy reported that scientists who evaluated the genotoxic impact in a laboratory study of sodium benzoate, found DNA damage when various concentrations were added to cells.

Sodium benzoate can also be found in some mouthwashes, shampoos, body lotions, deodorants, pills, cough syrups, and topical medications. Again, read labels and look for the words benzoic acid, benzene, E211, sodium benzoate, or benzoate, especially if you also see ascorbic acid or vitamin C.

Coca Cola eliminated sodium benzoate in 2008 in their regular Coke but not in all their products.  According to a June 2015 article in Livestrong entitled, “What Soft Drinks Have Sodium Benzoate E211 in Them?” by David B. Ryan, there were surprising findings.

While Diet Coke eliminated sodium benzoate in 2008, Fanta and Sprite still use it, supposedly because the company claims that  a flavor change would occur if natural alternatives are used.

Pepsi Max and diet versions of Mountain Dew, Sunkist Orange, Nestea, and Nordic Mist continue to use E211 worldwide. Diet Coke, Diet Pepsi, and Lipton Iced Tea now use potassium benzoate and citric acid in both bottled and canned versions.

Dr. Pepper uses E211 in plastic containers but not aluminum cans, while Mountain Dew uses E211 in all forms of packaging.  Dr. Pepper specialty drinks, such as Cherry Vanilla soda, contain E211. 7Up has shifted to potassium benzoate and vitamin E acetate.  Please refer to the article for further information.

According to sodium benzoate can interact negatively with Depacon (valproic acid) and Depakote (divalproex sodium).  These products may have other similar names.  Other drugs are ampicillin (probenecid), Proben-C (colchicine/probenecide), and other generic names.

When combining caffeine with sodium benzoate, which some sodas and other products do, the risk of adverse reactions with drugs increases to 87 drugs, including eleven major interactions with drugs such as Zenaflex (tizanidine). The side effects can include extra/irregular heartbeats, trembling or shaking of hands and feet.  Check the site for more information.

Remember, while small amounts of sodium benzoate may not affect the system, we are subjected to a deluge of products with this ingredient, from personal care products we use in the morning and throughout the day, some fruit drink products, possible medications, as well as certain condiments and food products, the soda we drink, and some types of wine with dinner.  It can really add up.

There are many safe products.  It may take time to read labels and adjust but worth it.  At home you can check Food Scores at the EWG (Environmental Working Group) site as well.



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