Sulphite preservatives (220-228) are the most dangerous additives in our food supply.

30 years ago, the US FDA banned sulphites in most fresh foods after a number of asthmatics died after eating fresh foods preserved with sulphites in restaurants.  

In Australia, sulphites are not permitted in fresh fruit (except on grapes), vegetables, in fresh meat such as beef mince (except in sausages although we have found many butchers use sulphites illegally in fresh mince) or on fish (except prawns).

So we were surprised at the following report from Lana, a known sulphite-sensitive asthmatic:

“As someone who is very sensitive to food additives 220-228 particularly metabisulphites (instant asthma), I will do anything to avoid a bad attack and I'm really nervous of "the big one". I buy, cook and eat only fresh and "raw" products. Avoiding these additives for nearly 30 years has been quite a commitment. I have become a supersleuth, finding sulphite additives in many foods. Sulphites are a nasty additive and should not be in the food chain."

This week I purchased some mince meat from Woolworths which claimed to have veggies added. When I got home I realised it was a "fresh" product with the dreaded additive, see photos. I am so angry with Woolworths for presenting a "healthy and fresh" product which is anything but that.“

BLOGsulphitessmall   BLOGsulphites02small

Presumably, adding fresh vegetables and mince together somehow make it OK to add sulphite preservatives. See full story

An Australian diet study found 66% of asthmatic children reacted to sulphite preservatives – although most of them don’t realise it, as Darryl from story [1516] explains about his son:

Vasthma

Symptoms due to sulphites reported by our readers include:

- asthma
- heart arrythmia (palpitations, tachycardia, atrial or ventricular fibrillation - Afib, Vfib)
- migraines
- seizures
- children’s behaviour and learning problems
- severe eczema
- stutter

Reader stories

“Sulfites put me into Atrial Fibrillation within 45 minutes. Liquids, like wine, will do it within seconds, foods take a little longer. Every time I go into Afib I end up in the hospital being cardioverted (shocked) back into rhythm …” – Carey from story [1575]

“Although my cardiologist never questioned my diet, after two hospitalizations in emergency for ventricular arrhythmia, and nearly two years of fearing for my life, feeling my heart jumping all over the place, and being miserable, I finally linked a very bad episode to foods …  Since eliminating sulphites, I have had NO problems…” -  Michiko from story [640]

“I do not have asthma but …sulfites in wines give me excruciating 2-3 day migraines, and the amount used on non-fresh shrimp has given me several life-threatening encounters that required 6+ hours under the care of a number of very, VERY uneasy emergency room doctors“ – Geoffrey from story [1079]

“I have linked 220 to eczema, which I have struggled with all my life. After refraining from 220, my incurable eczema vanished almost completely within days“ – Jenny from story [689]

“Sulphites send my 17 yo into a complete ODD asshole, more than typical teenager shit and attitude …” – Bec from story [1288]

The rise and fall of sulphites ...

In Australia, the prevalence of childhood asthma rose from about 10 per cent in the 1980s to over 25 per cent - one of the highest in the world - in the 1990s. A set of 3 surveys over 20 years in Belmont NSW found that the prevalence of diagnosed asthma in primary school children increased significantly for decade, then decreased slightly:

Year       Asthma prevalence

1982         9.1%
1992       38.3%
2002       31.0%

Researchers can’t explain these changes although for us the answer is obvious - asthma prevalence is linked to sulphite levels in processed foods. These increased massively during the last two decades of the twentieth century, and started decreasing when our food regulators - on recommendations from the World Health Organisation - started reducing sulphite levels.

According to the 2018 Global Asthma Report, 330 million people suffer from asthma worldwide, about 1,000 die every day and the prevalence of asthma is increasing especially in low and middle income regions. Their 88 page document doesn’t even mention the effect of sulphites or ultra-processed foods on asthmatics despite the global increase in these products.  Instead, the aim is to make expensive essential medications available for everyone.

… and rise of sulphites???

Now, our food regulators have decided that sulphite levels in our food supply may be too low and are considering increasing them again!

To us, this seems likely to lead to another asthma increase and more health problems.

What can consumers do?

Researchers who reviewed 45 studies about the effects of ultra-processed foods found that more ultra-processed foods in the diet are associated with higher risks of obesity, heart disease and stroke, type-2 diabetes, cancer, depression and death. Two more recent studies found adolescents’ asthma related to ultra-processed foods and drinks in Brazil, and processed meats in France. Their advice:

“Avoid ultra-processed foods altogether”


More info


Our sulphites factsheet “It really annoys me that this allergy is such a “best kept secret" so I was delighted to find your page on the internet” - Lana

Our factsheet: the dangers of dried fruit

Our factsheet on asthma and diet

Sulphites story collection

Note that this blog is about sulphites/sulfites 220-228 and not about sulphur or sulphates which can be a source of confusion for non-chemists.

References

Ultra-processed foods Elizabeth L et al, Ultra-Processed Foods and Health Outcomes: A Narrative Review ,Nutrients, 2020,Jun 30;12(7):1955 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7399967/ and
https://theconversation.com/the-rise-of-ultra-processed-foods-and-why-theyre-really-bad-for-our-health-140537

Brazilian asthma study Melo B et al, Associations of ultra-processed food and drink products with asthma and wheezing among Brazilian adolescents, Pediatr Allergy Immunol, 2018;29(5):504-511. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29679410/

French asthma study Andrianasolo RM et al, Association between processed meat intake and asthma symptoms in the French NutriNet-Santé cohort Eur J Nutr, 2020 Jun;59(4):1553-1562, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31147834/

Belmont asthma prevalence study Toelle BG et al,  Prevalence of asthma and allergy in schoolchildren in Belmont, Australia: three cross sectional surveys over 20 years, BMJ, 2004, Feb 14;328(7436):386-7. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC341389/

2018 Global Asthma Report

66% of asthmatic children react to sulphites Towns SJ and Mellis CM, Role of acetyl salicylic acid and sodium metabisulfite in chronic childhood asthma, Pediatrics, 1984,73(5):631-7. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/6718119/

Even the conservative WHO say 20-30% of children react to sulphites with asthma Fifty-first meeting of the Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives. Safety Evaluation of Certain Food Additives: evaluation of national assessments of sulfur dioxide and sulfites and addendum, Geneva: World Health Organisation, 1999, http://www.inchem.org/documents/jecfa/jecmono/v042je06.htm