Sulfites: Safety concerns for users of larger amounts, but data are still lacking

The diet-related recording of sulphites may pose a safety risk to consumers of large quantities of food containing these additives. This is the conclusion of EFSA’s experts in their updated assessment of sulfur dioxide (E220) and sulphites (E221-228). Due to gaps in toxicity data, the extent of certain adverse health effects could not be confirmed.

Sulfite occurs naturally in the human body, as well as in foods such as apples, rice, onions and cabbage, and beverages such as wine.

Sulfites are added to a number of foods as preservatives and antioxidants (eg to prevent food from browning), including dried fruit and vegetables, potato products, beer and malt beverages, wine and fruit juice. They can also be used to stop the fermentation process during winemaking.

safety limit

Dr Maged Younes, Chair of EFSA’s Panel on Food Additives and Flavorings, said: “The available toxicity data were insufficient to establish an acceptable daily intake (ADI) to derive. Instead, we have the safety margin for that exposure (MOE) considering dietary intake and those associated with neurotoxic effects in animal studies dosage calculated.”

“The ADI is a threshold below which we know the daily intake is safe. If there is evidence of adverse effects but not enough to confirm what level is safe, the MOE tells us whether current intake levels are likely to be harmful.”

The MOE is the ratio of the lowest estimated dose at which an adverse effect is observed to the level of exposure to the substance. For sulphites, a ratio below 80 can give rise to safety problems.

Exposure to consumers of larger quantities

Dr Matthew Wright, chair of EFSA’s working group on sulfur dioxide sulphites, said: “The MOE values ​​we calculated were found for consumers of higher amounts in all population groups except young people under 80. This means that the estimated intake level for these consumers is potentially above , what would be considered safe by up to 12.5% ​​in children (3-10 years) and by up to 60% in adults.”

The panel found evidence of adverse health effects on the central nervous system, e.g. B. a delayed response of nerve cells to stimuli, an early sign of dysfunction of the nervous system.

EFSA researchers also reiterated their previous recommendation to further investigate hypersensitivity or intolerance in some sensitive consumers due to existing knowledge gaps.

The background for the updated statement

In 2016, EFSA reassessed the safety of sulphites as part of the re-evaluation program for food additives approved in the EU before 20 January 2009.

At that time, the panel set a provisional group ADI of 0.7 milligrams per kilogram of body weight per day pending new data needed to make a conclusion on safety.

Although the European Commission issued a request for data to address the uncertainties described in EFSA’s previous reassessment, the information provided by industry and available in the published literature was insufficient to identify an ADI.

The European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) has defined sulfur dioxide as part of the EUbiocide-Regulation assessed separately, particularly with regard to its use for disinfecting wine barrels and as a preservative to prevent microbial growth in shoe boxes during storage and transport.

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