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Title: Sulfite  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: Sulfur assimilation, Sulfur, Herbert Bowyer Berkeley, Preservative, Food preservation
Collection: Sulfites, Sulfur Oxoanions
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia


A space-filling model of the sulfite anion.

Sulfites or sulphites are [1] its salts are widely used.

Sulfites are substances that naturally occur in some foods and the human body. They are also used as regulated food additives.[2]


  • Structure 1
  • Commercial uses 2
    • Wine 2.1
    • Other foods 2.2
    • E numbers 2.3
  • Health effects 3
  • Use and labeling regulations 4
  • Metabolic diseases 5
  • See also 6
  • References 7


The structure of the sulfite anion

The structure of the sulfite anion can be described with three equivalent resonance structures. In each resonance structure, the sulfur atom is double-bonded to one oxygen atom with a formal charge of zero (neutral), and sulfur is singly bonded to the other two oxygen atoms, which each carry a formal charge of −1, together accounting for the −2 charge on the anion. There is also a non-bonded lone pair on the sulfur, so the structure predicted by VSEPR theory is trigonal pyramidal, as in ammonia (NH3). In the hybrid resonance structure, the S-O bonds are equivalently of bond order one and one-third.

Resonance structures of the sulfite ion

Evidence from 17O [1]

Commercial uses

Sulfites are used as a food preservative or enhancer. They may come in various forms, such as:[3]


Sulfites occur naturally in all wines to some extent.[4] Sulfites are commonly introduced to arrest fermentation at a desired time, and may also be added to wine as preservatives to prevent spoilage and oxidation at several stages of the winemaking. Sulfur dioxide (SO2, sulfur with two atoms of oxygen) protects wine from not only oxidation, but also from bacteria. Without sulfites, grape juice would quickly turn to vinegar.[5]

  1. ^ a b Catherine E. Housecroft; Alan G. Sharpe (2008). "Chapter 16: The group 16 elements". Inorganic Chemistry, 3rd Edition. Pearson. p. 520.  
  2. ^ a b "Sulphites: One of the ten priority food allergens". Health Canada. Retrieved 6 April 2015. 
  3. ^ "Allergies: Sulfite Sensitivity".  
  4. ^ Zacharkiw, Bill, Montreal Gazette (July 15, 2008). "Can't hold the sulphites". 
  5. ^ "Sulfur in Wine Demystified". 
  6. ^ "Wine for Dummies" (McCarthy, Mulligan)
  7. ^ Breton, Félicien: Many organic wines contain sulfites
  8. ^ "Food Labeling - Community Legislation".  
  9. ^ a b c Fortin ND. Food Regulation: Law, Science, Policy and Practice.John Wiley and Sons, 2009, ISBN 0-470-12709-0, p. 288
  10. ^
  11. ^ "Sulphites - One of the nine most common food products causing severe adverse reactions". Canadian Food Inspection Agency. 
  12. ^ a b "SULFITE ALLERGY". The  
  13. ^ California Department of Public Health: Food and Drug Branch. Sulfites
  14. ^ Cleveland Clinic. Sulfite Sensitivity
  15. ^ Gaynor D. Govias, BSc, BEd. American Academy of Allergy Asthma and Immunology. Sulfite Sensitivity
  16. ^ American Academy of Allergy Asthma and Immunology. Sulfites
  17. ^ a b World Health Organization. Preservative: Sulfur Dioxide and Sulfites
  18. ^
  19. ^ "What you need to know about sulphites". Eat Right Ontario. Retrieved 6 April 2015. 
  20. ^ Hui YH. Handbook of Food Science, Technology and Engineering. CRC Press, 2006, ISBN 0-8493-9848-7, p. 83-32
  21. ^ "Foods That Contain Sulfites". Sulfite Allergies. 2012-3-7. Retrieved 2015-10-21. 
  22. ^ "For asthma sufferers:the facts about sulphites in food". Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ). 
  23. ^ Tedmanson, Sophie (November 5, 2009). "Doctors risk untried drug to stop babys brain dissolving". The Times (London). Retrieved May 13, 2010. 


See also

High sulfite content in the blood and urine of babies can be caused by molybdenum cofactor deficiency disease which leads to neurological damage and early death unless treated. Treatment, requiring daily injections, became available in 2009.[23]

Metabolic diseases

The sulphites that can be added to foods in Canada are potassium bisulphite, potassium metabisulphite, sodium bisulphite, sodium dithionite, sodium metabisulphite, sodium sulphite, sulphur dioxide and sulphurous acid. These can also be declared using the common names sulfites, sulphites, sulfiting agents or sulphiting agents.[2]

In Australia and New Zealand, sulfites must be declared in the statement of ingredients when present in packaged foods in concentrations of 10 mg/kg (ppm) or more as an ingredient; or as an ingredient of a compound ingredient; or as a food additive or component of a food additive; or as a processing aid or component of a processing aid.[22]

The products most likely to contain sulfites (fruits and alcoholic beverages less than 10ppm) do not require ingredients labels, so the presence of sulfites usually is undisclosed.

In the U.S., labeling regulations do not require products to indicate the presence of sulfites in foods unless it is added specifically as a preservative;[9] however, many companies voluntarily label sulfite-containing foods.[21] Sulfites used in food processing, but not specifically added as a preservative, are only required to be listed if there are more than 10 parts per million (ppm) in the finished product.

In 1986, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration banned the use of sulfites as preservatives on foods intended to be eaten fresh (such as salad ingredients).[9] This has contributed to the increased use of erythorbic acid and its salts as preservatives.[20]

Use and labeling regulations

It may cause breathing difficulty within minutes after eating a food containing it.[13] Asthmatics[14][15] and possibly people with salicylate sensitivity (or aspirin sensitivity)[16][17] are at an elevated risk for reaction to sulfites. Anaphylaxis and life-threatening reactions are rare.[12] Other potential symptoms include sneezing, swelling of the throat, hives, and migraine.[17][18][19]

Sulfites are counted among the top nine food allergens,[10] but a reaction to sulfite is not a true allergy.[11] Some people have positive skin allergy tests to sulfites indicating true (IgE-mediated) allergy.[12]

Health effects

E150b Caustic sulfite caramel
E150d Sulfite ammonia caramel
E220 Sulfur dioxide
E221 Sodium sulfite
E222 Sodium bisulfite (sodium hydrogen sulfite)
E223 Sodium metabisulfite
E224 Potassium metabisulfite
E225 Potassium sulfite
E226 Calcium sulfite
E227 Calcium hydrogen sulfite (preservative)
E228 Potassium hydrogen sulfite

E numbers for sulfites as food additives are:

E numbers

Most beers no longer contain sulfites, although some alcoholic ciders contain them. Although shrimp are sometimes treated with sulfites on fishing vessels, the chemical may not appear on the label. In 1986, the Food and Drug Administration in the United States banned the addition of sulfites to all fresh fruit and vegetables that are eaten raw.[9]

Sulfites are often used as preservatives in dried fruits, preserved radish, and dried potato products.

Other foods

In the European Union an equivalent regulation came into force in November 2005.[8] In 2012, a new regulation for organic wines came into force.

In the United States, wines bottled after mid-1987 must have a label stating that they contain sulfites if they contain more than 10 parts per million.[7]


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