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Sodium Metabisulfite – Side Effects (Allergy) & Uses In Food (Wine)

Sodium metabisulfite is an organic salt that is typically used in the healthcare and food industries. As a food additive, it is known as E223 and considered to have antioxidant properties.

Preservatives are chemicals used to extend the longevity of drinks and foods.

As a food product, the safe daily intake of E223 has been determined to be .7 grams per kilogram of body weight.

Uses of Sodium Metabisulfite

It is a bleaching agent in the pulp, textile, and paper industries. Moreover, it is considered a reducing agent that donates hydrogen molecules to other substances in personal care products and cosmetics.

It is also used in some medications, such as:

  • steroids and nebulized bronchodilator solutions;
  • anesthetics;
  • analgesics (painkillers);
  • intravenous muscle relaxants;
  • tranquilizers;
  • antibiotics;
  • cardiovascular drugs;
  • antiemetics (prevents nausea).

Tip – if inactive ingredients aren’t listed on your medicines, ask your healthcare provider to help you verify that your medications are sulfite-free.

READ MORE: Tricalcium Phosphate (E341) In Food – Dangers

Preservative in Wine



It is used in wine manufacturing and it serves as an antioxidant.

The number of sulfites that a wine can contain is up to 10 parts per million (ppm) and the wine must have on the label ”contains sulfites.”


If sulfites are a problem for you, you should know that white wines usually have more sulfites than red ones. Moreover, by law, wines produced from organic grapes in the US cannot contain added sulfites.

However, organic wine can have naturally occurring sulfites at levels below 10 ppm (mg/l).

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Other foods and drinks which may contain E223 include:15 Caffeine Free Sodas – Complete List

  • liquid tea concentrates and instant tea;
  • bottled soft drinks and fruit juice;
  • maple syrup, corn syrup, high-fructose corn syrup, fruit toppings, pancake syrup;
  • commercial preparations of vinegar, lime and lemon juice, and grape juice;
  • dried soup mixes;
  • canned seafood soups;
  • dried apricots, fruit bars (tip – look for dried fruits labeled “unsulphured”);
  • filled crackers;
  • trail mixes;
  • mincemeat, delicatessen meats, sausages;
  • frozen potatoes and potato salad;
  • instant mashed potatoes;
  • vegetable juice, pickled vegetables, canned vegetables, dried vegetables;
  • pie and pizza dough;
  • bread;
  • shredded coconut;
  • gelatin, pectin jelling agents;
  • cocktail mixes;
  • beer;
  • glazed fruit;
  • maraschino cherries;
  • bottled or frozen dietetic fruit or fruit juices;
  • noodle and rice mixes;
  • batters;
  • gravies;
  • spinach pasta;
  • modified food starch;
  • cornstarch;
  • dried cod;
  • scallops;
  • frozen lobster;
  • fresh, frozen, canned, or dried shrimp;
  • canned clams;
  • specially prepared skim milk where vegetable oils are added;
  • brown, raw, powdered, or white sugar derived from sugar beets;
  • salad dressings;
  • olives;
  • flour tortillas;
  • quiche crust;
  • crackers;
  • cookies;
  • biscuits;
  • jellies, jams;
  • pickles;
  • sauerkraut;
  • pickled onions.

Note – a ban by the US Food and Drug Administration went into effect in August 1986 to prohibit the use of sulfites in fresh vegetables and fruits due to cases of severe reactions to these food preservatives.

E223 Reaction With Water

This food preservative is hygroscopic and absorbs water from anywhere it can get it. From absorbing moisture, E223 can become heavier than it actually is itself.

READ MORE: Prunes vs Dates For Constipation

Side Effects

Allergic Reactions

Allergic Reactions

Benoit Daoust/Shutterstock

It usually doesn’t cause problems for most people, however, approximately 1 in every hundred people is sensitive or allergic to it.

The allergic reactions are more frequent in people with asthma and affect 5 to 10 percent of asthmatics.

The most common allergic reactions include:

  • trouble breathing;
  • coughing;
  • chest tightness;
  • wheezing;
  • anaphylaxis;
  • asthma attack (in people with asthma);
  • swelling of the mouth, face, and lips;
  • hives;
  • skin rash;
  • headache.


Individuals with sensitivities to this food preservative should avoid food products with the following chemicals on the label:

  • sodium sulfite;
  • sodium bisulfite;
  • potassium metabisulfite;
  • potassium bisulfate;
  • sulfur dioxide.

Exposure to this food preservative has been reported to induce a range of adverse effects in sensitive individuals, including:

  • diarrhea;
  • abdominal pain;
  • hypotension.

Eye Irritations

Irreversible damage may occur if the substance comes in contact with the eyes. Also, contact with the eyes can cause redness, irritation, and pain.

READ MORE: E338 (Phosphoric Acid) – Food Additive

Molybdenum Deficiency

When you consume sulfites, the liver transforms them into sulfates. But, for individuals with a sulfite sensitivity or intolerance, this transformation doesn’t take place properly.

This intolerance can be caused by a shortage of molybdenum, an essential trace element that contributes to the functions of the kidneys and nervous system.

In the human body, molybdenum is found in the liver, bones, and kidneys. Presently, there is no clear recommendation about daily intake of this essential trace mineral, but 10 mg a day is considered adequate.

Image credit – Shutterstock

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Ru Conmu

Wednesday 13th of February 2019

Very helpful article