Potassium Sorbate: Uses, Side Effects and How to Avoid Them
Potassium sorbate is a common preservative used in foods and beauty/personal hygiene products. It is easy to manufacture, and it is a cost effective chemical. Even though it is a traditional preservative, there are studies conducted to test the safety of the product and check for side effects of potassium sorbate.
There are also ways to avoid the preservative and precautions to take to avoid potassium sorbate side effects.
What is Potassium Sorbate?
Potassium sorbate is a polyunsaturated fat, and a common chemical used as a food preservative and additive. It is made synthetically by combining potassium hydroxide and sorbic acid. (1)
After it’s manufactured, it looks like a white crystalline powder, but it dissolves into a sorbic acid when it is mixed with water. It is common in foods because it is highly soluble and compatible with different pH levels.
This chemical is often labeled as non-toxic, non-GMO and kosher so that it can be widely distributed. Although it is commonly found in a wide variety of processed foods, some studies show it can cause health problems and issues.
Some Common Uses of Potassium Sorbate
Potassium sorbate is used in a variety of items to prevent the growth of fungi and mold in foods. Here are some common uses of the chemical:
1. Food Preservative
Food items that commonly contain potassium sorbate are food stored at room temperature, dairy products, baked goods, and processed vegetables and fruits.
Processed vegetables and other foods include canned goods, especially precooked, canned meats. Preventing mold or fungi from growing on food reduces the risk of foodborne illnesses, and the use of this particular additive keeps food from spoiling.
Winemakers use potassium sorbate for a couple of reasons. The main reason is this preservative helps with the fermentation process.
The chemical helps the wine develop without the use of yeast in this process. Besides fermentation, potassium sorbate is also used in wine to keep the flavor. Overall, this chemical helps maintain the recipe even when preservative levels are increased.
3. Beauty Products and Personal Hygiene
Like food, this preservative is found in shampoo, lotions, and other hygiene and beauty products to keep them from spoiling. These products tend to break down because they sit at room temperature for long periods of time.
4. Sealant and Industrial Coatings
The primary use of potassium sorbate in industrial coatings is to help preserve the material that it coats. This is helpful for organic wood because the preservative helps decrease the chance of mold or fungus growth on the wood.
Is Potassium Sorbate Bad for You? Is It a Harmful Toxin?
Preservatives are essential to the safe consumption of processed and common foods and the prevention of illness. Though, is it always safe?
It was mentioned earlier potassium sorbet could cause health issues as shown in some research. One of the research questions that was posed by researchers at Gazi and Ankara Universities in Turkey was “does potassium sorbate induce genotoxic or mutagenic effects in lymphocytes?” Their research concluded that this chemical should be labeled as a genotoxic and mutagenic compound because it damages white blood cells.
The result of damaged white blood cells due to the exposure of this chemical are damaged gene information which can lead to mutations and cancer. (2)
Another danger of this chemical is DNA damage. This happens when this chemical is mixed with ascorbic acid which is known as vitamin C. The possibility of mixing ascorbic acid and potassium sorbate is high, especially when this preservative is used in canned fruits.
Potassium Sorbate Side Effects
While researching the toxicity of potassium sorbate is rather new, there are known side effects of using this chemical. Although this is an approved agent, there are side effects of potassium sorbate that come from long-term consumption. Side effects differ if the chemical is used as a food preservative or personal hygiene/beauty products.
Consuming large amounts of food that contain potassium sorbate can prompt nutrient depletion. This happens because of diarrhea. This is a sign that the body cannot absorb nutrients, vitamins, and minerals properly. Other health complications can arise from nutrient depletion in the long run. In other cases, nausea happens due to overwhelming of too much potassium. Other side effects from prolonged consumption of the preservative are vomiting and upset stomach.
Allergies and hypersensitivity are also known side effect of this preservative. Prolonged use of this preservative can lead to allergies. Developing an allergy to this chemical is from hypersensitivity and an exaggerated immune response to the preservative.
Additional side effects due to allergies to chemical arise, and some of those side effects are:
- Itchy throat
- Nasal congestion
- Runny nose.
Abdominal pain from allergic reaction usually happens 2 hours after food consumption.
Using beauty or hygiene products that contain potassium sorbate also has side effects. Long-term use of such products can lead to:
- Skin irritation
- Burning/watery eyes and other skin ailments
This is mostly due to skin allergies to the preservative.
How to Avoid Side Effects of Potassium Sorbate?
There are ways to avoid this preservative if the side effects cause too much inconvenience or concerns. This ingredient is in a lot of foods and products, but there are ways to avoid it.
1. Check Ingredient Label
First step is to check the ingredient label of the food or hygiene item. Canned and processed foods are easy to rule out because the preservative is commonly in them. Processed and cured meats are items to avoid also.
Common processed food items are made with more natural ingredients and preservatives. Some examples of natural preservatives are vinegar, salt, sugar, ascorbic acid, and citric acid. If the product does not come with a label or there is uncertainty, most products have a customer service number to call.
2. Eat Fresh Fruits and Vegetables
Make sure you purchase fresh fruits and vegetables, fish, and meat instead of the processed foods. Though, it is still best practice to wash fruits and vegetables before consumption because some fruits and vegetables have a wax coating made with potassium sorbate. Washing should reduce the intake amount.
3. Sterile Filtering
Some wine companies use sterile filtering. Sterile filtration is done by using a size 0.2 micron filter instead of the standard 0.45 micron size. This type of filtering reduces potassium sorbate and removes all bacteria and yeast. Since sterile filtration is not commonly used by winemakers, another way to reduce intake through wine is to simply drink less wine.
In the case of allergies, it is advisable to completely stay away from the preservative and chose more organic versions of the food item.
Potassium Sorbate Precautions
Potassium sorbate is so common in foods and other products that it seems impossible to completely avoid it. There are precautions to take when avoiding it is not a possibility.
When using skin/beauty products that contain potassium sorbate, make sure it doesn’t get into the eyes. If it does happen, rinse the eyes thoroughly with water. There is a possibility of seeking medical attention if it is severe.
The best way to store processed food is in a cool, dark place, such as cupboards or pantries. It is best to keep the food item out of direct sunlight and under 100 degrees.
Potassium sorbate is a cheap and easy-to-make preservative which is why it is widely used in the foods that we regularly eat. It is almost impossible to avoid it, but limiting its consumption can help you avoid the health complications. Always eat fresh fruits and vegetables to curb the consumption of potassium sorbate.