Wise consumers – and wise manufacturers – are aware of what additives are being put into foods, and whether there are any potential health risks.  Very little in life is ever 100% safe, but food products need to be produced in a way that minimizes any possible risk.  However, sometimes there can be controversies.

Sodium benzoate is one of these controversial substances.  While numerous studies and government safety bureaus have declared sodium benzoate in food to be safe, it none the less attracts some critical attention.  Why is that?  We have a quick breakdown.

What Is Sodium Benzoate?

Sodium benzoate is a salt-like preservative, made from sodium and benzoic acid, which has been used in numerous food products for decades.  It has a slightly tart, bitter flavor – due to the acid – and is, therefore, most successful as a preservative in foods that are already a bit tart or bitter.

You will find sodium benzoate in soft drinks, cider, salted products like margarine, salad dressings, fruit jams & jellies, pre-prepared vegetable salads, and many more.  It is one of the most common preservatives in common use.

Is Sodium Benzoate in food safe?

Yes.  Sodium benzoate itself is completely safe.  It is Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) by the American Food and Drug Administration, as well as receiving similar ratings from other governmental food regulation bodies around the world.  When used in recommended quantities, it poses no direct health risk.

Why do some sources say that sodium benzoate is dangerous?

The issue is not what sodium benzoate is; it’s what sodium benzoate can become.

When sodium benzoate is in the presence of ascorbic acid – that is, vitamin C – the chemicals may interact and create benzene.  Benzene is recognized as a carcinogen and is particularly known for attacking bone marrow.

This wouldn’t be an issue, except that during the 90s-00s, certain soft drinks were found to contain enough ascorbic acid to cause this reaction with sodium benzoate.  When the matter was uncovered, the manufacturers of these drinks – of course – reformulated them to remove the risk.  However, some damage was done to the reputation of sodium benzoate in the process.

Today, any reputable food manufacturer takes pains to ensure it does not come into contact with ascorbic acid.

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