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What Foods Contain Benzoic Acid?

author image Jessica Jacobs
Jessica Jacobs is a registered dietitian and professional writer, contributing to "Fitness Magazine" since 2003. She received a B.A. in journalism from Arizona State University and an M.S. in nutrition and food sciences from the University of Texas at Austin.

Benzoic acid is a derivative of benzene, also known as sodium benzoate or the salt of benzoic acid. The acid is a preservative and examples of foods that contain high amounts of this salt include sauces and pickles. In addition to its use as a food additive, manufacturers use benzoic acid in the production of artificial flavors, fragrances and as a pH adjuster.

Benzoic Acid Uses

As a food additive, you can use benzoic acid to preserve different kinds of foods including fruit juices, soft drinks, pickles, barbecue sauces and salad dressings. Most processed foods have acids added artificially. The acid inhibits the growth of mold, yeast and bacteria. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration, however, considers acids approved for use as food additives safe for humans when consumed in small amounts. According to the book, “A Consumer’s Dictorionary of Food Additives,” the average level of benzoic acid found in foods is between 0.05 and 0.1 percent.

Benzoic Acid in Cosmetics

Many cosmetics and pharmaceutical products including medicated face washes and creams commonly use benzoic acid as an ingredient. Additionally, you will find benzoic acid used as a preservative in mouthwashes, deodorants, body cleansers, toothpastes, aftershave lotions and sunscreens. Externally, cosmetic products use benzoic acid to help prevent infections caused by bacteria. Specifically, benzoic acid can help to treat skin irritation and inflammation caused by burns, insect bites, eczema and fungal infections such as ringworm.

Food Sources of Benzoic Acid

A number of foods contain benzoic acid. It naturally occurs in berries and other fruits such as cranberries, prunes, plums, cloudberries. Additionally, cinnamon and cloudberries contain high amounts of benzoic acid. In fact, you can store cloudberries for long periods of time without bacterial or fungal spoilage. As a preservative, you will find benzoic acid in beer, chewing gums, sweets, ice cream, jams, jellies, maraschino cherries and margarine. You will also find benzoic acid used in processed foods such as cheeses and meats.

Safety & Side Effects

Benzoic acid does have several side effects associated with its use. The highest risk groups for experiencing these side effects include children, individuals sensitive to aspirin and individuals with liver conditions such as hepatitis. Side effects of benzoic acid include gastrointestinal irritation, asthma, rashes and itching and irritation of your skin and eyes.

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  • "A Consumer's Dictionary of Cosmetic Ingredients"; Ruth Winter; 2009
  • "A Consumer's Dictionary of Food Additives"; Ruth Winter; 2009
  • "An A-Z Guide to Food Additives"; Deanna M. Minich PhD CN; 2009
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