What is Potassium Sorbate?
Potassium sorbate is the potassium salt of sorbic acid that is used as a FDA approved food grade preservative. The potassium sorbate chemical formula is CH=CH-CO2K. It is a white to yellow colored salt; and it easily dissolves in water. It is found in some fruits naturally (like berries of mountain ash). It is also produced in a lab (synthetically).
Potassium sorbate pellets
What is it used for?
Potassium sorbate’s slightly acidic property prohibits the growth of microbes such as bacteria, fungi, mold, and prolongs the shelf-life of foods and cosmetics. Common uses include:
- As a wine preservative. Potassium sorbate is commonly added to wine during the fermentation process to prevent it from spoiling, for retaining the flavor of the wine, and to protect it from yeast and mold growth.
- As a preservative in personal hygiene and beauty products. Shampoos, conditioners, liquid foundations, and liquid concealers often contain potassium sorbate to help preserve the products from breaking down.
- As a food preservative. Potassium sorbate is used to prevent mold, bacteria and fungi growth in cheese, fruit, baked goods, dried meat products, and jellies. It is found mostly in food products that are stored at room temperature.
- As a preservative for industrial use. Potassium sorbate is often found in sealants and coatings. It helps prevent seals from cracking and preserves the material beneath the sealant. It also prevents mold, fungi or yeast from attaching to the surface.
Is potassium sorbate safe?
This is the primary question about potassium sorbate. According to the European Commission, the acceptable daily intake is 25 mg per kilo a person weigh. So a 75 kg individual should be able to tolerate 1,875 mg of potassium sorbate. Most scientific research reports have shown that, yes, potassium sorbate is safe to consume and use. However there remains some controversy about its safety, in particular regarding the effects of long term use.
Is potassium sorbate bad for you then? There is some controversy about the dangers of long term use and effects on the body. Some reports have suggested that it may be carcinogenic, neurotoxic, or disrupt endocrine function of the body. The following side effects have been reported from prolonged use of potassium sorbate: migraines, gastric distress (nausea, vomiting), malabsorption of nutrients in the gut, allergic reactions such as rash and itching (in particular with skin care products that contain potassium sorbate).
What does the actual scientific data show? Data from studies has shown that potassium sorbate is relatively safe to use. It has been approved by the FDA as a food preservative. A review published in the International of Journal Toxicology, reported the following conclusions about potassium sorbate and sorbic acid: (ref 1)
- They were not toxic when given by mouth (oral intake) in large quantities to experimental animals.
- When 10% potassium sorbate and sorbic acid were given over a long period in the diet, there were no side effects observed in rats, mice, or dogs.
- They did not result in any cancer or tumor development when added to water in experimental animals.
- They were deemed to be non-mutagenic by multiple tests: Ames test, genetic recombination tests, tests for chromosomal abnormalities, gene mutations, and reversion assays.
- There were no teratogenic effects (deleterious effects to the fetus) observed when it was given to pregnant rats and mice.
Despite the results of several studies that show potassium sorbate is safe to use, some people still prefer to avoid its consumption in their diet and personal care use.
Store bought tortillas may contain potassium sorbate.
How to minimize your exposure to potassium sorbate
- Eat organic and fresh foods and avoid canned foods. Potassium sorbate is often used in canned foods as a preservative.
- Drink fresh and organic juices. Packaged fruit juices may contain potassium sorbate as a preservative.
- When selecting a wine, find out if it has been filtered. Filtration of wine reduces the risk of side effects from potassium sorbate.
- When selecting skin care products and cosmetics, check the ingredient list to see for potassium sorbate. Avoid products that contain it. Use skin care product lines that advertise use of “earth based”, “organic”, and/or “natural” ingredients.