Is Sodium Benzoate Safe to Consume?

Sodium benzoate is used as a preservative in jams and jelly. It's safe for human consumption.
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Sodium benzoate is a preservative commonly used in fruit pies, jams, beverages, salads, relishes, and sauerkraut—foods that have an acidic pH. Chemical preservatives such as sodium benzoate are frequently used in processed foods to prevent the growth of bacteria, yeast, or other nasty microorganisms that could spoil your food. 

When sodium benzoate is combined with water, benzoic acid is produced. Benzoic acid is the active form of the preservative—the form that protects foods. Benzoic acid is also found naturally in some fruits, such as cranberries, plums, and apples.

The United States Food and Drug Administration has studied sodium benzoate extensively and found that it is safe when consumed in amounts found in normal diets.

According to the FDA, it would take approximately 180 times the amount of sodium benzoate present in a typical diet before any problems might occur. Even if all the foods you eat contain the largest amounts of sodium benzoate currently in use, it would still take 90 times the amount of sodium benzoate found in that diet to cause problems.

Yes, that sounds complicated, but it means the preservative is safe. According to the FDA Select Committee on Generally Regarded as Safe Substances:

There is no evidence in the available information to show that benzoic acid and sodium benzoate as food ingredients constitute a hazard to the general public when used at levels that are now current or that might reasonably be expected in future.

But What About Benzenes?

The names may sound similar, but benzene is NOT the same as sodium benzoate or benzoic acid. If you're eating something that has sodium benzoate added to it, you're not being exposed to benzene. It's important to understand that. There is a tie between benzoic acid and benzene that resulted in a bit of a soft drink scare in the early 2000s.

Back then, some soft drink manufacturers used a combination of sodium benzoate and ascorbic acid (vitamin C) in their formulas. These two compounds are safe under normal conditions, but with excessive heat exposure, they can interact to form benzene. Exposure to large amounts of benzene is known to cause cancer.

Since the potential for benzene formation existed, the FDA tested over 200 soft drinks back in 2005. Most contained no benzene at all or had less than five parts per billion, which is considered safe for humans. 

It's important to note that exposure is usually from coal burning and gasoline emissions, not from foods or beverages—even if sodium benzoate and ascorbic acid convert to benzene, the levels found in a bottle of soda were minuscule, so consumers weren't in danger. However, the soft drink manufacturers reformulated their products, and benzene formation is no longer an issue.

A Source of Sodium?

Sodium benzoate is one of the added ingredients that can contribute to your sodium consumption—something to consider if you need to watch your sodium intake. Check the Nutrition Facts labels to find out how much sodium is in a serving of the food you're consuming.

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