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Sodium Benzoate as a Food Preservative

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Updated July 15, 2014

Sodium benzoate combines with water to produce benzoic acid, which is the active form of the preservative. Benzoic acid is also found naturally in some fruits such as cranberries, plums and apples.

Chemical preservatives are frequently used in processed foods to prevent growth of bacteria, yeast or other microorganisms. Sodium benzoate is a preservative commonly used in fruit pies, jams, beverages, salads, relishes and sauerkraut -- foods that have an acidic pH.

The United States Food and Drug Administration has studied sodium benzoate extensively and found that it is safe when consumed in amounts found in normal diets. It would take approximately 90 times the amount of sodium benzoate found in a typical diet before any problems might occur.

Benzoates and Benzenes

Sodium benzoate is sometimes used as a preservative in soft drinks, along with ascorbic acid (vitamin C). With excessive heat exposure, the two additives may interact to form benzene, which is known to cause cancer.

Low levels of benzene were detected in a variety of soft drinks in 2005, but all levels were far below five parts per billion, which is considered safe for humans.

Sources:

Benzene in Soft Drinks. United States Food and Drug Administration. Accessed August 4, 2009. .

Benzoid Acid. United States Food and Drug Administration. Accessed August 3, 2009. http://www.accessdata.fda.gov/scri pts/fcn/fcnDetailNavigation.cfm?rpt=scogsListing&id=36

Chemical Food Preservatives: Bonzoate and Sorbate. New York State Agricultural Experiment Station. Accessed August 3, 2009. http://www.nysaes.cornell.edu/nec fe/pubs/pdf/Venture/venture2_chemical.html

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