Sodium benzoate is a common type of food preservative and is the sodium salt of benzoic acid. Food manufacturers make sodium benzoate by synthesizing the compounds, sodium hydroxide and benzoic acid, together. In addition to its use as a food preservative, sodium benzoate has other roles in food production as well. There are some side effects associated with excess sodium benzoate consumption in foods, so talk with your doctor about it to make sure you are not ingesting harmful doses of preservatives.
Sodium benzoate is a anti-fungal preservative that enhances the flavor of acidic foods.
Sodium benzoate preserves food by having anti-fungal properties, protecting foods from invasion by fungi that cause food to spoil and potentially make you sick. Sodium benzoate works by entering the individual cells in the food and balancing its pH level, increasing the overall acidity of the food. By lowering the intracellular pH of certain foods, sodium benzoate creates an environment in which fungi cannot grow and spread.
Soft Drinks and Acidity
According to the International Program on Chemical Safety, sodium benzoate is heavily used by the soft drink industry due to the demand of high-fructose corn syrup in carbonated drinks. Sodium benzoate increases the acidity of soft drinks, which also increases the intensity of flavor you get from the high-fructose corn syrup. On the back of a soda can, you can find sodium benzoate in the ingredients list as E211, which is the number assigned to it as a food additive.
Sodium benzoate is also used in medicine preparations, dye manufacturing, tobacco products and as a rust and mildew inhibitor. Sodium benzoate in food can be toxic when combined with other foods containing vitamin C.
Acidic Food Flavor Enhancement
Sodium benzoate is primarily added to acidic foods to enhance their flavor. It can be found in foods such as pickles, sauces, jams and fruit juices. Foods that contain vinegar, such as salad dressings, typically contain very high levels of sodium benzoate. Benzene, a precursor to sodium benzoate, can be found in very small amounts naturally in some fruits, vegetables, meats, dairy products and even drinking water.
Harmful Side Effects
Sodium benzoate, when combined with vitamin C, forms benzene. This substance is a carcinogen and is known to contribute to the formation of many different types of cancer. Sodium benzoate and vitamin C can occur together in beverages such as fruit juice or soda, where these substances have been added to prevent spoilage and inhibit growth of bacteria, molds and yeast. Benzene can form when beverages containing both substances are exposed to heat or light.
However, the Food and Drug Administration states that food products that contain both vitamin C and sodium benzoate express benzene levels that are below the dangerous limit. Talk to your doctor about sodium benzoate, especially if you consume a lot of foods and drinks that contain high levels of this food additive.
- "Nutrition for Health, Fitness, and Sport"; Melvin H. Williams; 2002
- Biochemistry Journal: Studies on the Mechanism of the Antifungal Action of Benzoate
- International Program on Chemical Safety: Benzoic Acid and Sodium Benzoate
- FDA: Data on Benzene in Soft Drinks and Other Beverages; May 2009
- National Institutes of Health: Sodium Benzoate