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Sulphites (sulfite USA spelling) are added to foods as a preservative and work by releasing sulphur dioxide gas and, because it is an irritant, it can cause the airway to become inflamed and constricted. It is thought that, in most individuals sensitive to sulphites, the gas is released when sulphite-containing foods interact with acid in the stomach. The gas disperses into the stomach but also backs up into the airway, causing symptoms. In rare cases, some individuals can have IgE antibodies to sulphites, which will cause an allergic reaction.

Sulphites can especially cause allergy-like symptoms in people with underlying asthma and allergic rhinitis (inflammation inside the nose) and Individuals with urticaria, a type of skin rash, can also experience worsening of symptoms after consuming sulphites. Many processed foods contain sulphites as a preservative and they are listed as E numbers on the labels so can be avoided. The best solution is to read each and every food label before buying any product.

Food additives that contain sulphites

  • E220 Sulphur dioxide

  • E221 Sodium sulphite

  • E222 Sodium hydrogen sulphite

  • E223 Sodium metabisulphite

  • E224 Potassium metabisulphite

  • E226 Calcium sulphite

  • E227 Calcium hydrogen sulphite

  • E228 Potassium hydrogen sulphite

  • E150b Caustic sulphite caramel

  • E150d Sulphite ammonia caramel


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Other names of sulphite additives

  • Potassium bisulphite

  • Potassium metabisulphite

  • Sodium and potassium sulphite

  • Sodium bisulphite

  • Sodium metabisulphite

Processed foods that may contain sulphites

  • Alcoholic beverages:  beer, cider, cocktail mixes, wine, wine coolers.

  • Baked goods and pastries: biscuits, cookies, crackers, flour tortillas, mixes with dried fruits or vegetables, pie crust, pizza crust, quiche crust.

  • Beverage bases: dried citrus fruit beverage mixes.

  • Condiments and relishes: horseradish, onion and pickle relishes, olives, pickles, salad dressing mixes, wine vinegar.

  • Confectionary and frostings: brown, raw, powdered, raw or white sugar derived from sugar beets.

  • Dairy products: Filled milk is any cream, milk or skimmed milk that has been reconstituted with fats, usually vegetable oils, from sources other than dairy cows that are added to increase its fat content.

  • Fish and shellfish: dried, fresh, frozen or tinned clams, cod, prawns, shrimp, lobster, scallops.

  • Fruit: bottled or frozen fruit juices (including apple, grape, lemon, lime); dried fruit; tinned, bottled or frozen dietetic fruit or fruit juices; maraschino cherries and glazed fruit.

  • Gelatine: Jams, jellies, puddings, pie fillings, fruit fillings, flavoured and unflavoured gelatine, pectin jelling agents.

  • Grain products and pasta: cornstarch, modified food starch, spinach pasta, gravies, hominy, breadings, batters, noodle/rice mixes.

  • Guacamole

  • Nuts and nut products: shredded coconut and tinned coconut milk.

  • Processed vegetables: vegetable juice, canned vegetables (including potatoes), pickled vegetables (including sauerkraut), dried vegetables, instant mashed potatoes, frozen potatoes and potato salad.

  • Snacks: dried fruit snacks, filled crackers, trail mixes.

  • Soups and soup mixes: Tinned seafood soups, dried soup mixes.

  • Sweet sauces: corn syrup, fruit toppings, high-fructose corn syrup, maple syrup, pancake syrup, toppings.

  • Tea: instant tea, liquid tea concentrates.

  • Vegetables: sulphite use is banned in vegetables except for dehydrated, pre-cut or pre-boiled potatoes.

Cosmetics that may contain sulphites

  • Body lotions

  • Fake tanning lotions

  • Hair dyes, colours or bleaches

  • Moisturisers

  • Shampoos

  • Shower washes and gels

  • Skin lighteners

Drugs that may contain sulphites

  • Anaesthetics

  • Analgesics (painkillers)

  • Antibiotics

  • Antiemetic drugs (taken to prevent nausea)

  • Cardiovascular drugs

  • Eye drops

  • Intravenous muscle relaxants

  • Nebulised bronchodilator solutions (used for treatment of asthma).

  • Steroids

  • Tranquilizers

NOTE: Sensitivity to sulphites is different from an allergy to sulphonamide-containing antibiotics. Sulphonamide is a different substance from sulphite, and used to be commonly found in antibiotics. However, due to allergies to this particular compound, the use of sulphonamides has decreased, as alternatives are available.

Fruit juices, and dried fruit, which are treated with sulphur dioxide to prevent oxidation
Dried sausage or ‘droëwors’, and boerewors, both of which are also preserved with sulphur
Beer and wine (wine barrels are cleaned out with sulphur dioxide)
Pickles and achaar and certain sauces,
Hamburger patties

If there is no improvement to symptoms through the elimination of sulphites check that the intolerance is not to the other food allergens listed on this page: Allergies

See also:

"Nature cures not the physician..." Hippocrates 460 BC


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