Sodium benzoate is commonly used as a preservative in carbonated drinks, fruit juices, salad dressings, and fermented foods like pickles, wine, and vinegar. It’s naturally present (and safe) as a sodium salt at very low levels in fruits like berries, apples, and plums, as well as spices like cinnamon. However, the scary synthetic version that’s added to foods and the lining of metal beverage cans has been linked to a host of health problems.
The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Canadian Health Protection Branch have pronounced this chemical preservative safe when consumed in small amounts. Sodium benzoate is considered GRAS (Generally Recognized as Safe) by the FDA, with their safe limit in food at 0.1 percent by weight. In water, the acceptable limit, set by the Environmental Protection Agency, is 5 parts per billion (ppb).
When combined with citric acid or ascorbic acid (otherwise known as vitamin C), a cancer-causing agent known as benzene is created. Benzene is linked to blood cancers such as leukemia. Sodium benzoate can also cause asthma attacks or hives in a small percentage of people who are even more sensitive to the preservative.
According to the Mayo Clinic, there may also be a link between sodium benzoate and ADHD The clinic states the preservative (in addition to several food dyes) could contribute to or cause hyperactivity in children.
In addition to food and drinks, sodium benzoate can also be found in personal care products like shampoo, moisturizer, mouthwash, and deodorant as an antibacterial agent. Pills, cough suppressants, and topical medications (both prescription and OTC) may also contain sodium benzoate.
What to look for
To limit your exposure to this chemical, it’s important to always check the label. Watch out for these words:
- benzoic acid
- sodium benzoate
Especially in combination with:
- citric acid
- ascorbic acid
- vitamin C
One of the easiest ways to avoid this scary additive is by removing carbonated beverages like soft drinks and fruit juices from your family’s diet.