February 22, 2018

Food Preservative Allergy: What Foods to Avoid?

Sometimes, a cold drink can close your nose up, or pickles can make you wheeze. Certain snacks may worsen the symptoms in people with a post nasal drip or trigger a sudden and severe asthma attack. These are the symptoms commonly associated with a food preservative allergy. This type of allergic disorder affects thousands of people suffering from asthma or rhinitis, while they don’t even know what they are allergic to.


Preservatives are contained in various food products. In order to control the symptoms of preservative allergy, it is important to determine the sources of this allergen and limit your exposure to it.

What Is Food Preservation?


Food preservation is a process required to protect a product against different forms of decomposition, including chemical reactions or microbial spoilage. There are two modes of preservation: physical, such as refrigeration, dehydration or drying, and chemical, that involves the use of chemical additives. A preservative is a chemical substance that is added to the product in order to keep it safe, preserve its freshness and nutritional value, and prevent foodborne infections. Apart from food and drinks, preservatives are also added to various pharmaceuticals, paints, cosmetics, biological samples, etc.

Preservatives play an important role in keeping us healthy. However, in some people, these additives may trigger an allergic reaction.

In fact, food preservation is nothing new. People have been preserving food products with sugar, table salt and vinegar for thousands of years. While these natural additives are generally safe for people with allergies, many preservatives and colorants used by food manufacturers today have been reported to cause allergies. “Modern” preservatives include Sulphur dioxide, nitrates, pimaricin, sodium benzoate, sorbic acid and others.

If you are sensitive to preservative additives, you will develop the symptoms every time you eat or drink something that contains these substances. Therefore, people with a preservative allergy should avoid certain processed foods and beverages.

What Are the Most Common Allergenic Preservatives?


Such additives as Sulphur dioxide and sodium benzoate are known for inducing allergic reaction. The symptoms mostly include wheezing and chest tightness in those with asthma, but you can also develop a skin rash and hives, or a sore throat.  A yellow-orange colorant tartrazine which is often contained in soft drinks and snacks, is also associated with an allergic disease.

Sulphur dioxide is often used in food manufacturing to preserve a product and prevent oxidation, as well as for cleaning purposes. It’s added to various food products, including dried fruits, fruit juices, wine, beer, dried sausages and boerewors, pickles, certain sauces, and hamburger patties. People who are allergic to Sulphur dioxide should avoid these foods.

There are also other versions if Sulphur dioxide, such as sodium metabisulphite, sodium bisulphite and sodium sulphite, and potassium metabisulphite, potassium bisulphite and potassium sulphite. These chemicals should also be avoided, as they cause the same symptoms in allergic people.

The best way to avoid allergenic preservatives is to always check food labels.

A preservative sodium benzoate is usually added to soft drinks, fruit drinks and food that contain fruit (e.g. ice-creams, puddings, cakes, etc.). If you have an allergy to sodium benzoate, make sure to read food labels to see if this compound is used in a product. Otherwise, you put yourself at risk of having an allergic reaction.

How to Control You Preservative Allergy?


There is no way to get rid of an allergy to preservative additives. The only method of allergy treatment is to avoid foods containing these allergenic substances, which can be quite difficult. This is because preservatives, especially Sulphur dioxide and sodium benzoate, are widely used in food production nowadays. In fact, it is easier to find a product that does contain an additive, than to find one that doesn’t.

People who are sensitive to Sulphur dioxide or sodium benzoate should stay away from any drinks except those that are totally preservative-free. Thus, beer, wine (especially white sorts of wine), soft drinks and frozen fruit juice lollipops are not recommended for allergic people.

Processed foods containing dried fruit (such as muesli mixes, yoghurts with dried fruit, protein bars, chocolates made with dried fruit pieces, pickles, chutneys or fruit sauces based on dried apricots and peaches) may also cause an allergic reaction in some people, because of Sulphur dioxide that is added to dried fruit.

Food products with a long shelf-life that don’t need to be refrigerated are also very likely to contain preservatives like sodium benzoate. Many of them are also often treated with Sulphur. Experts recommend that you always read labels on the food products before buying them. If the ingredient list of a product is not clear, you are better off avoiding it.

Sometimes, preservative additives are also used in various restaurant dishes. Therefore, when you eat out, you should inform the restaurant staff about your allergy, and make sure your meal doesn’t contain any chemical preservatives.

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