In my late 20s I started to notice I would cough a lot after having a glass of wine. I remembered coughing a lot as a kid when I drank a certain brand of orange juice popper. Soon the wine brought on something new to me - asthma. I only recognised it because my youngest child had asthma attacks and I had learnt a lot about asthma and managing it.

Then it started to accelerate - balsamic vinegar brought on instant attacks as did vinegars in general. I figured out that sulphite preservatives (220-228) in foods always brought on a reaction.

I went to see an allergy specialist who explained I was not crazy, and that the allergy to metabisulphites was real.

She cautioned me: sometimes the reaction will be small but with time it will build like adding drops of water to a teacup. One day that cup will fill and your reaction will be big - so go carefully. Asthma is no joke and I take that caution very seriously.

I do my best to check for 220-228 sulphites in what I eat. I try to cook everything myself from raw and - bonus - I have a really good diet! Lemon juice does the work of vinegar in my cooking (fresh, not bottled- that bottle is laced with sulphites).

Now I am in my early 60s and it has become second nature to check - most of the time! My family all do the eyeroll while I explain to restaurant staff, cafes and cake shops about the allergy and ask exact ingredients - no bottled lemon juice, no vinegars at all, no wine, no fermented sauces, no grapes or anything from a grape - no, taking the grapes out the fruit salad doesn't work because the sulphite is likely on the grape skins, no dried fruits etc etc. I avoid antipasto, take my own salad dressing. My friends accommodate me when they entertain, and generally all goes well as long as I keep patrolling the ingredients. Sometimes I slip up like with Woolies mince.

Avoiding these additives for nearly 30 years has been quite a commitment and also a lot of detective work.

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 once again presenting a "healthy and fresh" product which is anything but that.

BLOGsulphitessmall  BLOGsulphites02small

My daughter has developed the same allergy.

Sulphite preservative is a nasty product and should not be in the food chain. Its application is impossible to control evenly so sometimes amounts in a mouthful of food are very high.

It is all over organic food too as it is a 'natural' pesticide. And with wine it is all over wine production from the grapes on the vine which are sprayed and especially when the wine is pressed, it is liberally sprayed on the juice to stop it going off before fermentation. The vines being sprayed mean sulphite/sulfite-free wine is not a possibility.

See below for my specific areas of concern food-wise – Lana

  1. Wine is the number one baddie.  As are all grapes and grape products.  On researching wine production, I found out how much sulphur spraying goes on in the grape's growth phase and in the pressing stage and vatting stage of the wine. As a result, 'preservative free' wine is always useless, as sulphur has been added plenty of times long before that stage.
  2. I have found that, disturbingly, a lot of 'organic' produce, not just grapes, is allowed to be sprayed with sulphur as an allowable  insecticide.
  3. All sun dried  products (dried fruits).  I have found freeze dried fruits to be ok.
  4. Balsamic vinegar gives a really bad asthma attack, not sure why - I avoid it particularly. (Sue’s note: All vinegars contain sulphites, wine vinegars contain the highest doses and balsamic is made from a special variety of grape).
  5. Bread (except bakers delight/brumbies).
  6. Restaurant notes - areas to watch:
    Meat/fish marinades in restaurants.
    All salad dressings, hollandaise, mayonnaise (watch out for balsamic).
    Vinegar is added many sauces and sometimes desserts!
    Restaurant cutlery rinsed in vinegar/water mix - while eating at a restaurant and explaining (yet again) my problems with sulphur, to the kindly waitress, she alerted me to a little known fact: most restaurants soak their cutlery in a final rinse water of water and vinegar to give the cutlery a shine. It all adds to the load of sulphur we ingest.
    Vinegar used on baked vegetables to encourage caramelising etc

(Sue’s note: See also our Beware sulphites blog post)