Sodium Benzoate is used as a preservative to prevent food from molding. It helps keep our products shelf-stable for at least two years from the date of purchase and is used in concentrations of less than 0.5% by volume.
While sodium benzoate is considered safe, scientists have shown that negative side effects occur when it's mixed with ascorbic acid (vitamin C). Their studies indicate that it then turns into benzene, a known carcinogen that may cause cancer.
Uses of Sodium Benzoate
Food. In the food industry, sodium benzoate is used to prevent spoilage from harmful bacteria, yeasts, and molds. It also helps maintain freshness in food by helping to slow or prevent changes in color, flavor, PH, and texture.
Other foods that commonly include sodium benzoate include:
- Salad dressings
- Fruit juices
- Snack foods
Drink. Sodium benzoate is used as a preservative in soft drinks to increase the acidity flavor and as a preservative to extend the shelf life.
Coca-Cola. Sodium benzoate, potassium benzoate, and potassium sorbate are the three common preservatives in Coca-Cola’s drink. Sodium benzoate is used to protect the taste and it's used as an antimicrobial agent. Additionally, we can commonly find sodium benzoate in the ingredient lists of Fanta and Sprite.
PepsiCo. Sodium benzoate is also used to preserve freshness in Pepsi carbonated soft drinks. However, it’s used less in PepsiCo’s popular sodas, Diet Pepsi and Pepsi, which use potassium benzoate as the main preservative.
Cosmetics. Like food and drink products, cosmetics also need preservatives to prevent the growth of bacteria. Preservative-free, natural products cannot be stored for a long time.
Personal care products. Sodium benzoate can be used as an anti-corrosive and preservative in a large variety of personal care products such as:
- Hair products
- Baby wipes
Toothpaste. To inhibit the growth of microorganisms in toothpaste, producers usually add a certain amount of preservatives. When considering the antimicrobial effect, safety, and price, sodium benzoate is often the better choice compared with other commonly used preservatives in toothpaste.
Pharmaceuticals. Sodium benzoate can also be used in pharmaceutical products for its antimicrobial properties, such as in the formulation of tablets, capsules, and cough syrup.
Is Sodium Benzoate Safe?
Sodium benzoate is generally recognized as safe and can be used as an antimicrobial agent and flavoring agent in food with maximum usage of 0.1%. It’s also generally recognized as safe (GRAS) when used as a preservative in feed.
The FDA considers the maximum allowable level for sodium benzoate in drinking water as 5 ppb. Almost all beverage products are under this number and will not pose a threat to our health.
Many customers have concerns about preservatives such as sodium benzoate. It’s commonly thought that sodium benzoate is bad for your health and comes with several side effects.
Cancer. When sodium benzoate is combined with vitamin C — which happens in some soft drinks and other beverages — and exposed to elevated temperatures or light, the cancer-causing chemical benzene may form.
The FDA has not published more recent product analyses but has stated that the low levels of benzene in beverages don’t pose a health risk. Long-term studies assessing the relationship between regularly consuming low levels of benzene and cancer risk are still lacking.
Pregnancy. It’s generally considered safe during pregnancy, but better to consult with your doctor before using products with sodium benzoate.
Allergies. A small percentage of people may be hypersensitive to preservatives like sodium benzoate and may experience the following allergic symptoms:
- Epidemiologically relevant (itching and swelling)
- Perioral contact urticaria (skin irritation like rosacea)
- Pruritus (an uncomfortable urge to scratch)
ADHD. People who drank beverages containing high levels of sodium benzoate — like soda — reported an increase in attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) symptoms.
Inflammation. A 2022 study found that preservatives such as sodium benzoate in food and drink can lead to inflammation in the body. This type of low-grade inflammation can be chronic in people with obesity.
Alternatives to Consuming Sodium Benzoate
According to the FDA, if you're concerned about benzene exposure, avoid buying soft drinks that list both sodium benzoate and ascorbic acid or its chemical cousin, erythorbic acid.
If you’re experiencing challenges avoiding benzene exposure completely, you can limit your exposure to it by sticking with:
- Fresh fruit
- Vegetables (nothing pickled)
- Pressed fruit juice
The Bottom Line
The FDA allows up to a 0.1% concentration of sodium benzoate by weight in foods and beverages. If used, it must be included in the ingredient list on the product being sold.
Your body doesn’t accumulate sodium benzoate. Rather, you metabolize and excrete it in your urine within 24 hours, which contributes to its safety.
Still, some people may be more sensitive to this additive. Consult a doctor for appropriate testing if you suspect you have an allergy to sodium benzoate.