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Are preservatives bad for your health?

  1. Preservatives are not bad for health. Preservatives in food have an E number. This means that the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has properly checked these additives and that they can be used safely. The law specifies in which products which preservatives may be used and how much. There are reports that E numbers, such as preservatives, are harmful to health. These stories are often based on wrong conclusions and careless research. Read more about how nutritional science works.

Improve shelf life

  1. Preservatives such as sulphites (E221 to E228), nitrates (E251 and E252), nitrites (E249 and E250) and acetic acid (E260) are not just added to products. They even ensure that products remain safe for longer, because they counteract decay by bacteria and fungi and extend the shelf life. Products such as meat and meat products therefore remain good for longer. This also means less food to be wasted.

'Without preservatives'

  1. Sometimes you see a product in the store that says 'without preservatives'. Often these are products for which no preservatives need to be used anyway. Canned soup, for example, has been heated so well that all microorganisms such as bacteria have been eliminated, so you no longer need preservatives to keep it good for a long time. E-numbers such as preservatives are often in products that are not listed in the Wheel of Five. For products outside the Wheel of Five, the advice applies: not too much and not too often. Some people prefer to avoid E numbers. From a safety point of view this is not necessary because products with E numbers can be safely eaten, but there is also nothing against avoiding them. People with a hypersensitivity to sulphite should avoid products with the preservatives sulfur dioxide (E 220) or sulphites (E 221 to E 228).

Hypersensitivity to sulphite

  1. Some people can develop a hypersensitivity reaction if they ingest sulphite, a substance that can occur as a preservative or antioxidant in wine, for example. This is most common among asthmatics. It is estimated that less than 4% of asthma patients are at risk of a hypersensitivity reaction to sulfite. The reactions can be mild to severe and include palpitations, rashes and fluid retention. People with a hypersensitivity to sulphites should avoid these substances. If a product contains more than 10 mg per kilo or 10 mg per liter sulfur dioxide (E220) or sulphites (E221 to E228), sulphite must be emphasized as an ingredient on the label.

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