Calcium chloride in food is used as a firming agent, typically to help keep pickles and other canned fruits and vegetables crisp and crunchy. It's generally recognized as safe by the FDA, but use food-grade calcium chloride for anything you plan to eat — and follow the instructions as written.
Calcium chloride in food is a firming agent, typically used to keep pickles crunchy and in canned fruits and veggies.
Calcium chloride is also used in some de-icing solutions to melt snow on roads, as an additive in some plastics and for drying concrete more quickly. The substance is found in a variety of household cleaners, detergents and cosmetics.
What is Calcium Chloride?
Calcium chloride is a type of salt that is hygroscopic, meaning it absorbs moisture. According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, at room temperature, calcium chloride is a solid that is white or off-white in color. The chemical formula for calcium chloride, which can be refined from limestone and natural brine, is CaCl₂.
The Food and Drug Administration lists calcium chloride as GRAS — generally recognized as safe. According to the Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives, calcium chloride in food is a firming agent and can also be used to prevent browning. Firming agents are food additives used to help processed fruits and vegetables stay crisp, for example in jars of pickles.
You can purchase calcium chloride to use during home pickling. For example, Ball Pickle Crisp Granules are available in 5.5-ounce containers. According to the manufacturer, one container can be used to make 80 quarts of pickles, and using calcium chloride means you no longer need to pre-soak your pickles in pickling lime for a number of hours.
A study published in the journal Food Control in January 2015 found that a combination of calcium chloride and chitosan can help extend the shelf life of fresh-cut honeydew melon. Researchers concluded that melons treated with the combination lost less mass over time, had better color retention and remained firmer.
Calcium Chloride Uses
The substance has numerous applications outside the food world. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, calcium chloride is found in a number of household products, including:
- Cement mix accelerators
- Moisture absorbers
- Laundry detergent
- Stain removers
- Fabric softener
- Dishwasher detergent
- Toilet bowl cleaners
- Ice melt
- Pool cleaners
- Mineral supplements for aquariums and fish tanks
- Facial serums
Medical Uses for Calcium Chloride
Calcium chloride can also be used in medications, particularly to treat hypocalcemia, an electrolyte imbalance caused by low levels of calcium. Calcium chloride can be administered intravenously to quickly increase calcium in blood plasma.
The National Institutes of Health explains that calcium is necessary for muscle movements and communication between the brain and other parts of the body. It also helps release crucial hormones and enzymes. Calcium is generally stored in teeth and bones and helps keep those structures strong.
Your recommended daily calcium intake depends on your age and sex:
- 200 milligrams per day for infants up to 6 months old
- 260 milligrams per day for babies ages 7 to 12 months
- 700 milligrams per day for children ages 1 to 3
- 1,000 milligrams per day for children ages 4 to 8
- 1,300 milligrams per day for children ages 9 to 13
- 1,300 milligrams per day for teens ages 14 to 18
- 1,000 milligrams per day for adults ages 19 to 50
- 1,000 milligrams per day for men ages 51 to 70
- 1,200 milligrams per day for women ages 51 to 70
- 1,200 milligrams per day for adults ages 71 and over
- 1,300 milligrams per day for pregnant and breastfeeding teens* 1,000 milligrams per day for pregnant and breastfeeding adults
Most people get their daily calcium from foods rich in the mineral, like milk, yogurt, cheese, kale, broccoli and grains. If your calcium levels are low, your doctor may recommend a dietary supplement like calcium carbonate or calcium citrate.
Read more: How to Replace Electrolytes
Calcium Chloride for Neonatal Nutrition
For a study published in the Journal of Neonatal-Perinatal Medicine in 2017, researchers reviewed 15 years of data on calcium chloride use in neonatal intensive care units. They compared the outcomes of very low birth-weight babies given intravenous calcium chloride as part of their IV nutrition solutions to very low birth-weight babies given calcium gluconate in glass vials.
They found no adverse effects associated with calcium chloride, concluding that it's a safe alternative to calcium gluconate. The researchers wrote that calcium gluconate is linked to aluminum exposure, which is something physicians would like to minimize in vulnerable NICU patients. As such, they recommend that doctors prescribe calcium chloride instead of calcium gluconate.
Beth Israel Lahey Health explains that exposure to aluminum is typically not harmful, but exposure to high levels of it can contribute to health issues including muscle weakness, bone deformities, slow growth in babies and children, seizures, lung problems, anemia and nervous system complications.
Calcium Chloride Safety Concerns
The U.S. National Library of Medicine notes that exposure to calcium chloride can cause serious eye irritation. If inhaled, it can irritate your nose, mouth, throat and stomach, and long-term exposure to bare skin can cause skin irritation. If you're handling large amounts of pure calcium chloride, you may want to wear long sleeves and consider using eye protection and a protective mask.
While the small amounts of calcium chloride found in preserved foods are likely not a health concern, ingesting large amounts of the substance may be harmful. The International Programme on Chemical Safety says that overingesting calcium chloride may cause nausea, vomiting and burns inside your mouth and throat. If you accidentally ingest a large amount of calcium chloride, contact poison control immediately.
For safety purposes, follow the instructions on any product as listed. For example, some household cleaners that contain calcium chloride may recommend you wear gloves while using them to prevent contact dermatitis. If you're using calcium chloride as a de-icing agent, make sure you don't inhale the salts.
- U.S. National Library of Medicine: "Calcium Chloride"
- The Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA): "Calcium Chloride"
- University of Michigan: "Subtracting Additives"
- Food and Drug Administration: "Subpart B--Listing of Specific Substances Affirmed as GRAS Sec. 184.1193 Calcium Chloride"
- Food and Drug Administration: "GRN No. 785"
- The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Household Products Database: "Calcium Chloride Anhydrous"
- Ball: "Ball Pickle Crisp Granules"
- Food Control: "Chitosan Combined With Calcium Chloride Impacts Fresh-Cut Honeydew Melon by Stabilising Nanostructures Of Sodium-Carbonate-Soluble Pectin"
- National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements: "Calcium"
- International Programme on Chemical Safety: "Calcium Chloride (Anhydrous)"
- Journal of Neonatal-Perinatal Medicine: "Calcium Chloride in Neonatal Parenteral Nutrition: A 15-Year Experience"
- Beth Israel Lahey Health - Winchester Hospital: "Aluminum Toxicity"
- The Food Network: Canned Tomato Guide
- Center for Science in the Public Interest: Chemical Cuisine