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Sodium benzoate (E 211): use & risks

by Josephine Andrews
Published: Last Updated on 376 views

Sodium benzoate is listed under the European approval number E 211. It is a derivative of benzoic acid and, like benzoic acid, is primarily used for preservation purposes. Find out where sodium benzoate occurs naturally, what it is used for, its properties and when to use it with caution.

What is Sodium Benzoate?

E 211 is the sodium benzoate of benzoic acid and, like this, is used as a preservative.

This white, crystalline solid is water soluble and odorless. It is often used in combination with sorbic acid and sulfur compounds as they complement or enhance the preservative effect of sodium benzoate.

The sodium salt is found naturally in various fruits (cranberries, raspberries , plums), but also in honey and dairy products, where it is produced during fermentation. In plants, it protects against pathogens. If it is to be used as a preservative in the food industry, it is usually produced synthetically.

Where is sodium benzoate used?

E 211, like benzoic acid, is used to make food last longer. This very often applies to soft drinks. It prevents fungi or bacteria from forming in food, especially in an acidic environment.

However, it is only permitted in strictly defined quantities and only for certain foods. Organic food, for example, but also animal feed are excluded. Sodium benzoate is particularly dangerous for cats because it is toxic for them from a dose of five parts per thousand. Carnivores such as dogs and cats cannot detoxify the substance.

The daily maximum for adults is five milligrams per kilogram of body weight.

Sodium benzoate can be found in these products/product groups, among others:

  • soft drinks, fruit juice concentrates
  • Olive
  • sauces, ketchup, mustard
  • Margarine
  • Wurst
  • canned fish
  • pickled vegetables
  • Aspic

In addition, E 211 is approved for cosmetic products, for example against the formation of microorganisms in creams, as well as pharmaceuticals such as valerian products and Alka Seltzer.

Is Sodium Benzoate Harmful?

E 211 is permitted as a food additive, but has a maximum value that should not be exceeded.

Especially in people who are allergic to aspirin and salicylic acid or in people with asthma, allergic reactions or pseudo-allergic symptoms can occur without involvement of the immune system. Cramps and digestive problems, among other things, have also been observed.

In addition, benzoates such as E 211 are suspected of affecting the nervous system and promoting disorders such as ADHD (attention deficit syndrome). Carcinogenic and germ cell-damaging benzene can form in non-alcoholic soft drinks to which vitamin C has been added in addition to sodium benzoate. To what extent this is actually the case cannot yet be said.

Healthy people absorb sodium benzoate through the intestines and excrete it through the kidneys with the help of a protein building block. But if only to avoid exceeding the daily maximum, it is advisable to take a look at the list of ingredients for the respective product.

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