With the current consumer drive towards healthier and “more natural” foods, it’s understandable for some companies to be concerned about putting too many artificial preservatives in their products.  However, when it comes to sodium benzoate, there is very little to fear.  This is one of the most commonly used preservatives in the world and has been repeatedly found to be of no threat to human health when used properly.

In this article, we will briefly discuss what sodium benzoate is, how it’s used, and any health concerns that might need to be addressed.

What Is Sodium Benzoate?

Sodium benzoate is a sodium salt, produced by combining benzoic acid and sodium hydroxide (lye).  While sodium benzoate is technically an artificial product, its two ingredients are both found in nature.  Nor is there anything particularly unnatural about its means of creation: combining an acid with a base creates a stable solid.

Sodium benzoate has a slightly salty and slightly bitter/acidic flavor on its own.  However, it is extremely useful as a preservative in a wide variety of products.

How Is Sodium Benzoate Used?

Sodium benzoate is naturally bacteriostatic and fungistatic, making it an excellent all-around preservative in many food products, as well as pharmaceutical products, as well as cosmetics such as shampoo.  It is also occasionally used directly in pharmaceutical applications, including treating urea cycle disorders.

Due to the salty/acidic taste, it is best suited for products which are either not intended to be tasted, or already have some of those flavor elements.  It is particularly popular in sodas and fruit drinks, as well as pickles, jams, and various condiments like ketchup and soy sauce.

Are There Health Risks to Sodium Benzoate?

On its own, sodium benzoate is entirely safe to use in quantities specified by the FDA and similar food-governing bodies around the world.

However, it has gotten some bad reputation because of a potential chemical interaction: if combined with ascorbic acid, it can convert into benzene, a known carcinogen.  This has, on occasion, caused products – particularly sodas – to test as unacceptably carcinogenic under lab analysis.

This does not mean that sodium benzoate itself is unsafe, merely that care must be used in its utilization to keep it away from sources of ascorbic acid.


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