E211

Sodium Benzoate (sodium salt of benzoic acid)

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  • Latest update & fact check: 4.7.2024 - Rebecca Taylor, CNP
  • Origin: It is produced synthetically and does not come from natural sources.

Sodium Benzoate, also known as E211, is a widely used food preservative. Chemically, it is the sodium salt of benzoic acid with the formula C7H5NaO2. It appears as a white, crystalline powder that is odourless and has a slightly sweet, astringent taste. Sodium Benzoate is soluble in water and its primary role in food products is to inhibit the growth of potentially harmful bacteria, yeast, and fungi.

Origin

Sodium Benzoate can be found naturally in certain fruits such as cranberries, plums, apples, and some spices. However, the commercial production of Sodium Benzoate is typically synthetic. It is manufactured by combining benzoic acid with sodium hydroxide, which results in a reaction that produces sodium benzoate and water.

Characteristics

  • Antimicrobial Properties: Prevents the growth of microorganisms, particularly in acidic conditions.
  • pH Dependent: Most effective in acidic environments (pH < 4.5).
  • Solubility: Highly soluble in water, making it easy to incorporate into a variety of food and beverage products.
  • Stability: Stable under a wide range of temperatures and storage conditions.

Uses in Ultra‑Processed Foods

Sodium Benzoate is extensively used in ultra‑processed foods due to its preservative properties. Here's a detailed look at its applications:

  • Extended Shelf Life: Sodium Benzoate helps to prolong the shelf life by preventing spoilage from yeast and bacteria. This ensures that beverages remain safe to consume over longer periods.
  • Mold Prevention: In bakery items, Sodium Benzoate helps to prevent mold growth, which can spoil these products quickly.
  • Maintained Texture and Taste: It helps in preserving the desired texture and taste of condiments by preventing spoilage that can alter these characteristics.
  • Flavour Stability: By inhibiting microbial growth, Sodium Benzoate helps maintain the intended flavor profile of beverages, preventing souring or other flavor changes.
  • Extended Freshness: It helps to extend the freshness of these products, ensuring they remain enjoyable to eat over a longer period.
  • Inhibits Bacterial Growth: In processed meats such as sausages and ham, Sodium Benzoate inhibits the growth of harmful bacteria like Listeria and Clostridium botulinum, enhancing the safety of these products. 

Health Considerations

While Sodium Benzoate is generally recognized as safe (GRAS) by food safety authorities like the FDA and EFSA when used within recommended limits, there are several health considerations to be aware of:

  • Allergic Reactions: Some individuals may experience allergic reactions or hypersensitivity, such as skin rashes and asthma.
  • Benzene Formation: In the presence of vitamin C (ascorbic acid), Sodium Benzoate can form benzene, a known carcinogen. Although the levels formed in foods are typically very low, this is a potential risk factor.
  • Hyperactivity: There is some evidence suggesting that Sodium Benzoate, especially in combination with artificial colourants, may be linked to increased hyperactivity in children.

References

  1. Chipley, J. R. (2005). Sodium benzoate and benzoic acid. In P. M. Davidson, J. N. Sofos, & A. L. Branen (Eds.), Antimicrobials in Food (3rd ed., pp. 11‑48). CRC Press.
  2. FDA. (2020). Code of Federal Regulations Title 21. Retrieved from https://www.ecfr.gov/current/title‑21/chapter‑I/subchapter‑B/part‑184/subpart‑B/section‑184.1733
  3. European Food Safety Authority. (2016). Scientific Opinion on the re‑evaluation of benzoic acid (E 210), sodium benzoate (E 211), potassium benzoate (E 212) and calcium benzoate (E 213) as food additives. EFSA Journal, 14(2), 4433.
  4. McCann, D., Barrett, A., Cooper, A., Crumpler, D., Dalen, L., Grimshaw, K., Kitchin, E., Lok, K., Porteous, L., Prince, E., Sonuga‑Barke, E., Warner, J. O., & Stevenson, J. (2007). Food additives and hyperactive behaviour in 3‑year‑old and 8/9‑year‑old children in the community: a randomised, double‑blinded, placebo‑controlled trial. The Lancet, 370(9598), 1560‑1567.
  5. Nair, B. (2001). Final report on the safety assessment of Benzyl Alcohol, Benzoic Acid, and Sodium Benzoate. International Journal of Toxicology, 20(3), 23‑50. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9003278/