What is Sodium sorbate (201), and where is it used?
Sodium sorbate, also known as E201, is a food preservative commonly used in the food and beverage industry to prevent the growth of bacteria, yeast and moulds . This additive is the sodium salt of a naturally occurring compound known as sorbic acid. While sodium sorbate can be sourced naturally, it’s most commonly synthetically produced. The main purpose of sodium sorbate as a food preservative is to prevent microbial growth, thereby maintaining the quality, taste, texture and shelf-life of various products, such as wine, carbonated drinks, fruit juices, salad dressing, cottage cheese, meat and fish products [1,2].
Purported Health Implications
While sodium sorbate itself may not have explicit health benefits as a preservative, its capacity to prevent microbial growth and safeguard the nutritional value contributes to upholding the overall quality and safety of products, thereby reducing the risk of food-borne illnesses [1,2].
Allergic Reactions: Some individuals may experience allergic reactions or sensitivities to preservatives, including sodium sorbate. This may include skin rashes, hives or respiratory symptoms . If you suspect or have a known allergy to sodium sorbate, it’s important to be aware of its presence in food products and to consult a healthcare professional.
Potential Genotoxicity: Previous investigations have shown conflicting results, in which some studies reported that sodium sorbate might have harmful effects on genes in cultured Hamster cells and isolated human lymphocytes [3-5]. Whereas, other studies have reported no genotoxicity was found in mice or hamsters .
Recommendations for Safe Consumption
Acceptable Daily Intake (ADI): The Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA) and the EU Scientific Committee for Food (SCF) both have allocated a group ADI for sorbic acid (E200) and its sorbates, including sodium sorbate (E201), of 25 mg/kg body weight/day [7,8]. Adhering to recommended limits is key to ensuring safe consumption.
Balance diet with fresh foods: Just like any food additive, moderation is key. Although sodium sorbate is an effective preservative, it's important to have a diverse and balanced diet that includes fresh, minimally processed foods. Depending solely on preserved or processed foods may not supply all the necessary nutrients our bodies require for overall well-being. Incorporating a variety of fresh foods into your diet reduces the need for preserved foods.
Different Legalisations: Due to concerns about the potential genotoxic and mutagenic effects of sodium sorbate, it has been prohibited as a food additive in the UK and throughout Europe by the European Union . Whereas, it is a permitted additive in the US, Australia and New Zealand [10,11].
Regulatory Agencies: The FDA has determined sodium sorbate as “Generally Regarded As Safe” (GRAS) when used in accordance with good manufacturing practices .
Anyasi TA, Jideani AI, Edokpayi JN, Anokwuru CP. Application of organic acids in food preservation. Organic Acids, Characteristics, Properties and Synthesis; Vargas, C., Ed. 2017:1-47.
Dey S, Nagababu BH. Applications of food color and bio-preservatives in the food and its effect on the human health. Food Chemistry Advances. 2022 Oct 1;1:100019.
Hasegawa M, Nishi Y, Ohkawa Y, Inui N. Effects of sorbic acid and its salts on chromosome aberrations, sister chromatid exchanges and gene mutations in cultured Chinese Hamster cells. Food Chem Toxicol. 1984;22:505–507
Schiffmann D, Schlatter J. Genotoxicity and cell transformation studies with sorbates in Syrian Hamster embryo fıbroblasts. Food Chem Toxicol. 1992;30:669–672
Mamur S, Yüzbaşıoğlu D, Ünal F, Aksoy H. Genotoxicity of food preservative sodium sorbate in human lymphocytes in vitro. Cytotechnology. 2012 Feb 2;64(5):553–62.
Münzner R, Guigas C, Renner HW. Re-examination of potassium sorbate and sodium sorbate for possible genotoxic potential. Food and Chemical Toxicology. 1990 Jan 1;28(6):397–401.
JECFA (Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives), 1974. Toxicological evaluation of some food additives including anticaking agents, antimicrobials, antioxidants, emulsifiers and thickening agents. Seventeenth report of the Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives. WHO Food Additive Series No 5.
SCF (Scientific Committee for Food). Reports of the Scientific Committee for Food (Thirty-fifth series). Opinion on sorbic acid and its calcium and potassium salts. 25 Feb 1994, 19–22.
European Union. Commision Regulation (EC) No 1333/2008 of the European Parliament and of the Council on food additives. 2008, Dec 16.
U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Food Additive Status List. 2023.
Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ). Food additives - numerical list. 2019.
We do our best to source robust information from a number of credible sources. There is, however, a large amount of information on various aspects of nutritional elements along with claims in terms of their contribution to helping in body health which may contradict the above.