News from CRIS: Trending - Sulfites

April 8, 2024

What are sulfites?

Sulfites are a common preservation ingredient that can be naturally occurring or human-added to foods and beverages.

Sulfites naturally occur in some foods and are produced during fermentation.

Manufacturers may add sulfites to various food and drink products as preservatives to prevent spoilage and oxidation.

What types of foods and beverages contain sulfites?

Sulfites are naturally occurring, or manufacturers may add them to products. Some products containing naturally occurring sulfites may have additional sulfites added to the product to ensure consistency and safety.

Foods and beverages that contain naturally occurring sulfites:

  • Dried Fruits

  • Wine and beer

  • Aged cheeses

  • Fermented foods (e.g., sauerkraut, vinegar)

  • Teas and coffees

Foods and beverages that contain added sulfites:

  • Packaged vegetables

  • Condiments and sauces

  • Baked goods and mixes

  • Processed meats

  • Fruit juices

  • Wine, beer, and cider

Why do we use sulfites?

Two significant factors cause foods to go bad quickly: microbes and oxidation.

Microbes that cause spoiling are undesirable bacteria, fungi, and yeasts that can grow in our food products. These microorganisms feed off the foods’ nutrients and can cause serious harm to humans if consumed. Without preservatives, like sulfites, bacteria can invade our foods and if consumed by humans, can cause us to become critically ill. Less harmful bacteria, fungi, and yeasts will grow on foods, making them inedible.

Oxidation, which is a term for certain types of chemical reactions, can impact food safety and flavor by causing an undesirable chemical change that can turn fats rancid and can cause vegetables and fruits, such as cut potatoes and apples, to brown. Enzymes and other chemical breakdown processes are responsible for the oxidation that transforms foods into unpalatable and, at times, unsafe products

Sulfite ingredients help keep foods and beverages safe and shelf-stable by helping prevent spoiling and oxidization, allowing grocery manufacturers to distribute foods across the country and the globe without impacting food safety or quality.

Are sulfites regulated?

In the United States, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) are responsible for guidelines and regulations on sulfite ingredients.

The FDA considers sulfite ingredients Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS). However, they require manufacturers to list sulfite ingredients on the label if the product contains sulfites at more than ten parts per million.

Moreover, the FDA has regulations in place that prohibit the use of sulfites with certain foods, such as particular meats, due to concerns that they may impede the absorption of vital nutrients.

The TTB also requires sulfite labeling on wine and malt beverages (1,2).  


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