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Sodium benzoate is a preservative added to some sodas, packaged foods, and personal care products to prolong shelf life.
Some people claim that this man-made additive is harmless, while others link it to cancer and other health problems.
This article provides a detailed overview of sodium benzoate, including its uses and possible safety concerns.
Sodium benzoate is best known as a preservative used in processed foods and beverages to extend shelf life, though it has several other uses.
It's an odorless, crystalline powder made by combining benzoic acid and sodium hydroxide. Benzoic acid is a good preservative on its own, and combining it with sodium hydroxide helps it dissolve in products (1).
Sodium benzoate does not occur naturally, but benzoic acid is found in many plants, including cinnamon, cloves, tomatoes, berries, plums, apples, and cranberries .
Additionally, certain bacteria produce benzoic acid when fermenting dairy products like yogurt.
Aside from its use in processed foods and beverages, sodium benzoate is also added to some medicines, cosmetics, personal care products, and industrial products.
Here's a closer look at its many functions.
Sodium benzoate is the first preservative the FDA allowed in foods and still a widely used food additive. It's classified as Generally Recognized As Safe (GRAS), meaning that experts consider it safe when used as intended.
It's approved internationally as a food additive and is assigned the identifying number 211. For example, it's listed as E211 in European food products .
Sodium benzoate inhibits the growth of potentially harmful bacteria, mold, and other microbes in food, thus deterring spoilage. It's particularly effective in acidic foods.
Therefore, it's commonly used in foods, such as soda, bottled lemon juice, pickles, jelly, salad dressing, soy sauce, and other condiments.
Sodium benzoate is used as a preservative in some over-the-counter and prescription medications, particularly in liquid medicines like cough syrup.
Additionally, it can be a lubricant in pill manufacturing and makes tablets transparent and smooth, helping them break down rapidly after you swallow them.
Lastly, larger amounts of sodium benzoate may be prescribed to treat elevated blood levels of ammonia. Ammonia is a byproduct of protein breakdown, and blood levels may become dangerously high in certain medical conditions.
Sodium benzoate is commonly used as a preservative in cosmetics and personal care items, such as hair products, baby wipes, toothpaste, and mouthwash.
It also has industrial uses. One of its biggest applications is to deter corrosion, such as in coolants for car engines .
What's more, it may be used as a stabilizer in photo processing and to improve the strength of some types of plastic.
Some people are generally leery of all chemical additives, including sodium benzoate. Preliminary studies raise questions about its safety, but more research is needed.