Scan the ingredient list of many foods, you might come across calcium propionate or sodium propionate.
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What Is Calcium Propionate?
Calcium propionate is a preservative that helps keep your food safe to eat. It's used in baked goods, cheeses, jams, puddings and frostings, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
Chemical names can seem mysterious. Unlike other items in the ingredient list (think: flour and eggs), it's harder to know what precisely these are.
Propionate acids occur naturally in cheese and butter, per the FDA. They're a short-chain fatty acid, according to the American Council on Science and Health. Calcium propionate is the calcium salt of propionic acid, while sodium propionate is the sodium salt of that same acid.
Calcium propionate and sodium propionate are antifungal and also help stop the growth of certain bacteria, according to the FDA.
Is Calcium Propionate Safe?
Calcium propionate is safe for you to eat.
It's classified as "generally recognized as safe" or GRAS by the FDA. The FDA evaluated this preservative in 1979. Similarly, the World Health Organization (WHO) evaluated calcium propionate in the 1970s and also deemed it safe.
Neither of these organizations has set an upper limit for intake.
In 2014, a panel of the European Food Safety Authority assessed extending the use of sodium propionate, which was already in use in bakery and cheese products, to processed meat and fish. The panel found no safety concerns, per August 2016 findings published in the EFSA Journal.
Side Effects of Calcium Propionate
As you can see, organizations around the world that overlook the safety of food additives and preservatives have deemed calcium and sodium propionate safe to eat.
Still, you may wonder if there are any harmful side effects to preservatives. With these two, there's probably no cause for concern.
It's possible that a very small number of people may experience migraines due to calcium propionate, per a June 2019 study published in the International Journal of Molecular Epidemiology and Genetics.
Is Your Diet Missing Certain Nutrients?
An April 2014 study looked at the effect of propionate in mice and humans, finding that it increased glucagon (aka a hormone that helps increase blood sugar), according to results published in Science Translational Medicine. This could implicate the preservative in insulin resistance. Note, however, that there were only 14 human participants — more research is needed to understand what link, if any, exists between the preservative and metabolic dysregulation.
- Center for Science in the Public Interest: "Chemical Cuisine"
- U.S. Food and Drug Administration: "CFR - Code of Federal Regulations Title 21"
- FDA: "Evaluation of the Health Aspects of Propionate Acid, Calcium Propionate, Sodium Propionate, Dilauryl Thiodipriopionate, and Thiodipropionic Acid as Food Ingredients"
- American Council on Science and Health: "Propionate, A Common Food Preservative, Alters Our Metabolism. Does That Make It A Disruptor?"
- World Health Organization: "CALCIUM PROPIONATE"
- EFSA Journal: "Safety of the extension of use of sodium propionate (E 281) as a food additive"
- International Journal of Molecular Epidemiology and Genetics: "Effects of 3300 del A-1061 Ter BRCA1 frameshift mutation and calcium propionate on oxidative stress and breast carcinogenesis"
- Science Translational Medicine: "The short-chain fatty acid propionate increases glucagon and FABP4 production, impairing insulin action in mice and humans"