Safety of Eating Calcium Propionate

White bread with sesame seeds
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Calcium propionate is used as a preservative in bread and other baked goods, and it may be combined with propionic acid and sodium propionate. Calcium propionate helps keep baked goods fresh by preventing mold and bacterial growth that would otherwise cause them to go bad. Calcium propionate also occurs naturally in butter and some types of cheese.

Sometimes consumers have questions about the safety of calcium propionate. Many people are concerned about the idea of preservatives that are used as ingredients in the foods we eat. But think of it this way: Do you want to eat bacteria- or mold-infested bread? Probably not. Preservatives such as calcium propionate are important for keeping some healthy foods safe.

Calcium Propionate Safety Studies

Calcium propionate has been studied for potential toxicity and for any possibility that it might cause cancer. For the most part, the laboratory findings were negative.

The accumulation of research evidence indicates that calcium propionate is non-toxic and safe to use in the amounts currently used by food manufacturers.

The research was enough for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's Select Committee on Generally Recognized As Safe (GRAS) Substances to conclude in 1979:

"There is no evidence in the available information on propionic acid, calcium propionate, and sodium propionate that demonstrates or suggests reasonable grounds to suspect a hazard to the public when they are used at levels that are now current or that might reasonably be expected in the future."

What Happens When You Eat Calcium Propionate

Your body doesn't store calcium propionate, so it doesn't build up in any of your cells. When your digestive system is busy breaking down all the foods you eat, it also splits the calcium apart from the propionic acid, which is readily absorbed and metabolized, just like any other fatty acid. Then your body eliminates it.

There are anecdotal claims that some people are sensitive to calcium propionate and may suffer from migraine headaches triggered by exposure to foods that contain the preservative. But there isn't enough scientific research that backs that claim. That doesn't mean it isn't possible that calcium propionate causes headaches in some people, though.

If you think you may have an issue with calcium propionate, it's a good idea to speak with your healthcare provider. They can help you determine what's causing your health problem and talk to you about eating (or avoiding) foods that contain calcium propionate.

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  1. EFSA ANS Panel. Scientific Opinion on the re-evaluation of propionic acid (E 280), sodium propionate (E 281), calcium propionate (E 282) and potassium propionate (E 283) as food additives. EFSA Journal. 2014;12(7):3779. doi:10.2903/j.efsa.2014.3779 

  2. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Overview of Food Ingredients, Additives & Colors. Updated February 6, 2018.

  3. Pongsavee M. Effects of 3300 del A-1061 Ter frameshift mutation and calcium propionate on oxidative stress and breast carcinogenesis. Int J Mol Epidemiol Genet. 2019;10(3):47-52.

  4. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. CFR - Code of Federal Regulations Title 21. Updated April 1, 2019.

  5. National Center for Biotechnology Information. Calcium propionate (compound).