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Sodium Sulfite – toxicity, side effects, diseases and environmental impacts

Thursday, November 30, 2017 by

Sodium sulfite is a food additive meant to preserve the freshness of various items. Its use was quite rampant during the early 1960s to 1970s until the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) restricted its use in 1986. This was in response to the slew of adverse effects being noted by people who consumed fresh produce that contained sodium sulfite. Part of the restrictions include disallowing the additive in any food that contains vitamin B1, except for pre-cut potatoes. Food manufacturers of items that contain sulfites are likewise required by law to declare the presence of the additive in quantities greater than 10 parts per million (ppm) on the label.

Sodium sulfite is also known as monosodium sulfite, disodium sulfite, sulfurous acid, or disodium salt. It has the chemical formula of Na2SO3.

List of known side effects

Sodium sulfite is hazardous if ingested and corrosive if inhaled. Several toxicological reports have concluded that sodium sulfite can cause severe skin burns and eye damage. Those who handle the substance are requested to wear proper, protective gear at all times. Should sodium sulfite ever come into contact to your skin, immediately flush the area with clean, running water for 15 minutes and seek immediate medical attention.

Those who suffer from asthma are also warned of sodium sulfite. There are scores of research which suggest that the additive can exacerbate lung conditions.

There are those who unknowingly have a sensitivity to sodium sulfite. Ingestion of the substance can induce symptoms such as headaches, wheezing, or even anaphylactic shock. For the most part, a sensitivity to sodium sulfite will manifest itself in the narrowing of the airways and having difficulty breathing. Sometimes, emergency treatment is necessary. Some people report experiencing nausea, diarrhea, and abdominal pain in conjunction with their respiratory symptoms.

Body systems harmed by sodium sulfite

Sodium sulfite is an irritant to the lungs, skin, and eyes. Prolonged inhalation of the substance can damage the lungs. People typically report a congested feeling.

The additive may also play a hand in the gradual disintegration of the gastrointestinal tract, particularly among those who have a sensitivity to it.

Items that can contain sodium sulfite

Many food products use sodium sulfite. Pay close attention to shellfish though – these are usually peppered with the substance. Wine drinkers should also look for varieties that specifically say “no sulfites added”.

Other food items that can contain sodium sulfite include dried fruit, potatoes, vinegar, beer, and fruit juice.

How to avoid sodium sulfite

This is relatively simple and can be done through proper consumer education. Read the ingredients list of all the items you buy.

Where to learn more


Sodium sulfite is a popular food additive used to preserve freshness. Its use has been restricted by the FDA due to the many negative reactions that can be caused by the substance. Even so, the additive is still used in many food products today, including wine.

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