E221 Sodium Sulphite

What is the Food Additive E221 ?

E221, known as sodium sulfite, is widely used in various industries, including food processing, pharmaceuticals, and manufacturing.

E221 is a food additive categorized under chemical preservatives. It is a sodium salt of sulfurous acid, appearing as an unstable white powder that reacts with oxygen to form sulfate. In acidic conditions, it forms sulfurous acid, which has preservative, oxidizing, and bleaching properties but can also reduce the vitamin content in foods. Illegally, this preservative may be used to mask bacterial degradation in meat.

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What is the Recommended Daily Dose ?

Regulatory bodies, such as the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), have established permissible levels of sodium sulfite in foods and beverages to ensure consumer safety. It is important for manufacturers to adhere to these limits.

  • Maximum Inclusion Dose: 10-2000 mg/kg or mg/l
  • Acceptable Daily Intake for Human Consumption: Up to 0.7 mg/kg body weight, a dose that can be easily exceeded through the cumulative consumption of products containing sulfur-derived preservatives.

Labeling Requirements

Products containing sodium sulfite must be appropriately labeled to inform consumers of its presence, especially to alert those who may have sensitivities or allergies.

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E221 is used in food preservation:

  • Antioxidant: E221 helps prevent the oxidation of foods, which can lead to spoilage and discoloration. It is commonly used in preserving dried fruits, vegetables, and canned goods.
  • Antimicrobial Agent: By inhibiting the growth of bacteria and fungi, sodium sulfite extends the shelf life of various food products.

It is also used in the beverage industry, particularly in the production of wine and beer, to prevent unwanted microbial growth and oxidation, thus maintaining the quality and stability of these beverages.

Sodium sulfite is used in water treatment facilities to dechlorinate water, which is crucial for preventing harmful effects on aquatic life and reducing the risk of corrosion in water distribution systems.

Important Note: The use of E221 in meat products is generally restricted or prohibited, as it can mask signs of spoilage.

Contraindications and Risks

E221 is generally considered safe for most people when consumed in recommended amounts. However, some individuals may exhibit sensitivity to sulfites, which can cause allergic reactions such as:

  • Hives
  • Nausea
  • Diarrhea
  • Breathing difficulties (in severe cases)

While sodium sulfite is effective in water treatment, improper disposal or excessive use can lead to environmental issues.

Conclusion

Sodium sulfite (E221) plays a vital role in various industries, particularly in food preservation and chemical manufacturing. Its ability to prevent oxidation and microbial growth makes it an invaluable additive in maintaining the quality and safety of foods and beverages. However, it is essential to consider safety regulations and potential allergic reactions associated with its use. With proper management and adherence to guidelines, sodium sulfite remains a beneficial and efficient compound in many applications.

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Author – Cosmina Nițu

Master in Nutrition – Infant and new born nutrition

Sources:

https://www.efsa.europa.eu/en/ – European Food Safety Authority (EFSA)

InfoCons – European Organization for Consumers Protection and Promotion of Programs and Strategies , a full member of the World Organization Consumers International, founding member of the Federation of Consumer Associations, and member of ANEC.

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