Sulfites are commonly added to food and beverages as a preservative and to prevent oxidative discoloration. Persons who are hypersensitive to sulfites should be aware of foods and beverages containing it so that these can be avoided.


Reactions to sulfiting agents may range from mild to life-threatening. Most patients experience a mild allergic reaction with nausea, abdominal pain, diarrhea, flushing, itching, urticaria and/or angioedema. Less often patients may experience bronchoconstriction and rarely anaphylaxis. Not everyone who claims sulfite hypersensitivity actually has it.


Sulfiting agents used in the US and listed on the ingredient label:

(1) sodium sulfite

(2) sodium bisulfite

(3) potassium bisulfite

(4) sodium metabisulfate

(5) potassium metabisulfate

(6) sodium dioxide


Foods commonly containing sulfiting agents:

(1) bread: commercial mixes

(2) cereals with dried fruit

(3) fruits: dried, prepared at salad bars in restaurants

(4) potatoes: pre-peeled, dehydrated or instant

(5) vegetables: dried vegetables, prepared at salad bars in restaurants, guacamole

(6) sea food: shrimp, shellfish

(7) soups: dried or instant soup mixes

(8) gelatin products


Beverages commonly containing sulfiting agents:

(1) nonalcoholic beverages: coffee, soft drinks, tea

(2) alcoholic beverages: beer and wine

(3) fruit juices, cider

(4) vegetable juices: tomato juice


Sulfites can also be converted to hydrogen sulfide gas by bacteria with in the gut.


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