MadSci Network: Medicine

Re: What foods are sulfite free?

Date: Thu Mar 23 12:48:47 2000
Posted By: Mike Crawford, Postdoctoral Fellow, Biology
Area of science: Medicine
ID: 953336582.Me


Unfortunately, after some searching, I was unable to find a list of foods that one could be assured is sulfite-free without consulting a label, with a
couple of exceptions mentioned near the end below.

A pretty good web site to go to is 
Some of the links are dead, but this is where I got most of the information mentioned below.
You might also want to contact the Food and Drug Administration 1-800-FDA-4010.  They probably will be able to mail, fax, or email you info

Here is some of what I found.....

Sulfites are chemicals that keep foods fresh and light in color.  They are usually mentioned on food labels as sulfite, sodium bisulfite, metabisulfite, or sulfur dioxide.  
People who are allergic or sensitive to this chemical get itchy lips, swollen tongue, trouble breathing, severe gastrointestinal pains, vomiting, diarrhea, and/or shock.  It can 
be a medical emergency.  Sulfite sensitivity is more common in people with asthma, but it can effect anyone.  It is
hard to tell sometimes when sulfites are in foods, particularly when foods are prepared by someone else for a carry-in dinner or at a restaurant. 

If you want to avoid sulfur-based preservatives, these are the names to watch for: 

     Sulfur Dioxide 
     Sodium Sulfite 
     Sodium Bisulfite 
     Sodium Metabisulfite 
     Potassium Bisulfite 
     Potassium Metabisulfite 

In 1986, FDA ruled that sulfites used specifically as preservatives must
be listed on the label, regardless of the amount in the finished
product. Sulfites used in food processing but not serving as
preservatives in the final food must be listed on the label if present
at levels of 10 parts per million or higher. Regulations issued in 1990
extended these required listings to standardized foods.

Also in 1986, FDA banned the use of sulfites on fruits and vegetables
intended to be eaten raw, such as in salad bars and grocery store
produce sections. Grocers and restaurateurs were using them to maintain
the color and crispness of fresh produce. (Even before the FDA ban,
industry trade groups had persuaded many of their members to stop using
sulfites on fresh produce.)

FDA plans to repropose a ban for sulfites on fresh, peeled potatoes
served or sold unpackaged and unlabeled, such as for french fries in
restaurants. An earlier FDA rule dealing with sulfites on potatoes was
invalidated by the court in 1990 on procedural grounds.

In addition, sulfite-sensitive consumers are learning how to avoid
sulfites. Consumer awareness combined with FDA actions have slowed the
number of adverse reaction reports. Ziyad says that from 1990 to 1992,
fewer than 40 were reported, and at press time, there had been only
three reports in 1993.

Hope some of this helps,

Michael Crawford

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