Food Sensitivities

Sulfite Sensitivity

Certain individuals are hypersensitive to sulfating agents used in processing specific foods, beverages and drugs. These people experience adverse reactions of varying degrees of severity.

Asthmatics or other individuals with this hypersensitivity should avoid consuming items which contain sulfating agents. They can identify these items by reading labels on packaged foods and by inquiring about their presence in foods eaten away from home.

Sulfur dioxide and several forms of inorganic sulfites that release sulfur dioxide when used as food ingredients are known collectively as sulfating agents. They are marketed as "vegetable fresheners" or "potato whitening" agents and are used to eliminate bacteria, preserve freshness and brightness, prevent spoilage of certain food products. They are also used to improve the quality or texture of finished baked products.

According to some studies, 5% to 10% of all asthmatics are hypersensitive to sulfating agents. They may experience reactions ranging from relatively mild to severe. Symptoms may include difficulty in breathing, flushing, gastrointestinal disturbance, and possibly, anaphylactic shock.

Individuals who have this hypersensitivity should be aware of the food categories to which sulfating agents are often added. They include but are not limited to the following:

  • Alcohol (all sparkling grape juices including non-alcoholic)
  • Avocado Dip and Guacamole
  • Beer
  • Cider
  • Cod
  • Fresh Fish
  • Fruit (cut-up fresh, dried or maraschino-type)
  • Fruit Juices, Purees and Fillings
  • Gelatin
  • Glucose, syrup and solid
  • Hot Peppers (jar)
  • All Bottled Lemon/Lime Juice
  • Potatoes (cut-up fresh, frozen, dried or canned)
  • Relishes
  • Salad Dressing (dry mix)
  • Salads, particularly salad bars
  • Sauces and Gravies (canned or dried)
  • Sauerkraut and Cole Slaw
  • Sausage Meats (esp. outside USA)
  • Shellfish (fresh, frozen, canned or dried): Clams Crab, Lobster, Scallops, Shrimp
  • Soups (canned or dried)
  • Vegetables (cut-up fresh, frozen, canned or dried)
  • Wine vinegar
  • Wine & wine coolers

Preventative Measures against Sulfite Sensitivity

If you feel you may be sensitive to these agents or have been so informed by your physician, the following preventive measures are suggested:

  • 1. Read labels on all processed foods. Sulfating agents may be mentioned on the label and their presence will be indicated by one or more of the following terms:
    • Sulfur dioxide
    • Potassium bisulfate or potassium metabisulfate
    • Sodium bisulfate, sodium metabisulfate or sodium sulfite
  • 2. When ordering food in a restaurant ask a manager if sulfating agents are present in the specific item you desire. Most restaurants have discontinued the use of sulfating agents on the recommendation of the National Restaurant Association. However, it is often present in the items purchased from suppliers. Press the manager for a definite answer, but he may not be aware of sulfites added by the suppliers.
  • 3. If the manager seems in doubt or you do not receive a definite answer, order an item which is not sulfated such as chicken, eggs, meat or cheese.

For further information or medical advice please consult your physician.