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What Are the Dangers of Potassium Sorbate?

Potassium sorbate is a potassium salt version of sorbic acid, a naturally occurring polyunsaturated fat. It was initially derived from the mountain ash tree, when the French discovered it in the 1850s. Today, it is created synthetically and largely employed as a food preservative. The food industry has tested it extensively and consumption of potassium sorbate is generally safe. Even in large quantities, your body breaks it down ias water and carbon dioxide, according to the Center for Science in the Public Interest.

Uses of Potassium Sorbate

Potassium sorbate's use as an antimicrobial preservative prevents the growth of mold, bacteria and fungi in cheese, dried meats, baked goods, jellies and syrups. As a preservative in dried fruit, potassium sorbate often replaces sulfur dioxide, which has an aftertaste. The addition of potassium sorbate to dietary supplements inhibits microbes and increases shelf life. Many personal care products use potassium sorbate to prolong shelf stability and prevent bacteria contamination. Acting as a wine stabilizer, potassium sorbate prevents yeast from fermentation past the wine’s bottling stage. By inhibiting the fermentation process, it ceases production of yeast.

Regulating Preservatives

Potassium Bisulphite as a Food Preservative

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Government agencies regulate the use of preservatives and monitor levels in food and drinks to ensure manufacturers compliance with regulations. The UK Miscellaneous Food Additives Regulations of 1995 tested sorbates in non-alcoholic flavored drinks to determine the maximum daily levels allowable over a lifetime without appreciable health risk. The results, published in Food Survey Information Sheet, June 2008, report acceptable daily intakes for sorbic acid at 25 milligrams per kilogram of body weight per day.

Side Effects

Personal hair-care and skin products containing sorbate or sorbic acid -- both forms of potassium sorbate -- can cause skin and eye irritation. The DermNet NZ website reports that sorbic acid preservative can cause a condition known as contact urticaria. Reactions include a burning or itching rash appearing within minutes to one hour after exposure. Localized, red swelling can occur, especially on the hands, but the rash generally disappears within 24 hours.

The Food and Drug Administration requires that all additives are listed on food labels, but reading ingredients can be confusing. Additives are often categorized nonspecifically as "spices" or "flavorings," making it difficult to determine what you are eating. Some food additives can cause allergic reactions and health problems. If you want to avoid preservatives such as potassium sorbate, buy fresh, unprocessed foods grown by local farmers; Eat whole foods and fewer convenience ready-made meals; Drink fresh organic juice, and choose fresh fruit over dried or canned options.