Sulfites | Archives | Aggie Horticulture

1. Q. As the Christmas season and the accompanying Christmas eating approaches, what vegetables are safe to eat? Which food stuffs are sprayed with sulfites which might cause allergic reactions?

A. Apparently there is still a great deal of confusion about the use of sulfiting agents in food products. There are six sulfiting agents (sulfur dioxide, sodium and potassium metabisulfite, sodium and potassium bisulfite and sodium sulfite) currently being used to help prevent spoilage and discoloration in foods.

These agents have been banned by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for use on fresh fruits and vegetables that are meant to be consumed raw. They also cannot be used in foods considered to be good sources of vitamin B , including fresh meat and poultry products. However, sulfur dioxide is still allowed on grapes to control bunch rot. The gas is almost always applied after harvest, before shipping. Treated grapes must be sampled and analyzed. SO residues above 10 ppm will not be allowed.

Sulfiting agents may still be used in processed food products. They must be declared on the label, if there is a detectable amount in the finished food. It does not matter whether the agents have been added directly or indirectly, its the total that counts. The regulation defines a detectable amount of sulfite to be 10 parts per million. The label declaration now applies to alcoholic beverages as well. Wine usually contains more sulfites than any distilled spirits or beer. All American wine BOTTLED after July 9, 1987 has to declare sulfites. Since wine is sometimes held for several years before releasing, there are still some wines on the market that contain sulfites, but are not labeled as such.

Sulfites are still used to help prevent black spot in shrimp and it is supposed to be labeled if the SO residue is 10 ppm or more. They are also effective in preventing discoloration of fresh cut, refrigerated potato products. The products are cooked in some manner prior to use which reduces the SO residue.

At one time, sulfites were widely used to preserve the taste and looks of food, displayed fresh. Since the FDA ban, most food service facilities have followed the rules, but there are still a few reports of illegal use of sulfiting agents today.

Remember, most of us do not have to worry about these products. Its the sulfite sensitive individuals in our population that need to stay alert and ask questions. It has been estimated that more than a half a million people are adversely affected from ingesting sulfites.

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