If you see potassium sorbate in the ingredient list of any food, it has been added to prolong the shelf life. Potassium sorbate originates from the potassium salt of sorbic acid, which is naturally found in many plants, and prevents the growth of pathogens. According to the Center for Science in Public Interest, the additive is safe to consume.
Cheese, yogurt, dips using dairy products, margarines, mayonnaise and sour cream contain potassium sorbate. These products are processed using potassium sorbate to extend their shelf life by inhibiting the growth of certain molds, yeast and bacteria.
Potassium sorbate, in the form of sorbic acid, is a relatively new additive found in some wines. Sorbic acid is produced when potassium sorbate is dissolved in water. The antimicrobial properties of sorbic acid were first discovered in the 1940s, when the additive was used to prevent the refermentation of semisweet and sweet wines. Dry red or white wines do not contain sorbic acid, as these wines have no sugar present and therefore are not at risk of refermentation. You will not find sorbic acid in organic wines, either, since it is not allowed as an additive, nor will it typically appear in wines from commercial wineries, which use a sterile filtration system when bottling.
Fresh and Dried Fruits
Potassium sorbate is commonly used with fruits in place of a synthetic fungicide to control fungal decay that will spoil the fruit. Fruit products, including dried fruits that are shelved at room temperature, contain potassium sorbate to ward off the potential growth of pathogens that could cause the product to go bad.
Additional Products Containing Potassium Sorbate
Sorbic acid is generally used at 250 to 1,000 parts-per-million levels in a variety of products. Baked products, including pies, cakes, confections, bread, baking mixes, fudges, icing and toppings, contain sorbic acid. Other products you may find at the grocery store containing potassium sorbate or sorbic acid are: beverages, acidified or fermented vegetables, salads, olives, smoked and salted fish, dressings, syrups and jellies.
- Center for Science in the Public Interest: Learn About Food Additives
- USDA Agricultural Marketing Service: Potassium Sorbate
- Iowa State University Extension and Outreach: Sorbic Acid
- University of Minnesota: Potassium Sorbate as a Wine Preservative
- USDA Agricultural Research Service: Emerging Technologies to Maintain Postharvest Quality and Control Decay of Fresh Commodities