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Navigating Allergies and Food Sensitivities

Sulfite Allergies

Sulfite Sensitivity or Allergy Info

sulfite free

Sulfites occur naturally in some foods or may be added to increase crispness or prevent mold growth.

Sulfites in high concentrations sometimes pose problems for people with severe asthma. Sulfites can give off a gas called sulfur dioxide. This gas irritates the lungs and can send an asthmatic into severe bronchospasm, a tightening of the lungs.1

Sulfites are known to increase asthma symptoms in approximately 5% of asthmatics, particularly in adults with severe disease. Numerous well-controlled studies show that some asthmatics can have severe asthma symptoms by eating sulfite-containing foods/beverages or inhaling sulfite fumes or vapors.2

Sulfites are added to foods for various reasons.
These include: 2

  • Reduction of spoilage by bacteria
  • Slows the browning of fruit, vegetables and seafood
  • Inhibits growth of bacteria during fermentation of wines
  • Conditioning of dough in frozen pie and pizza crust
  • Bleaching effect for maraschino cherries and hominy


In the past, sulfites were added to fresh foods in restaurants and grocery stores to prevent browning. An increase in reactions led the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to ban the use of sulfites as spray-on preservatives in fresh fruits and vegetables in 1986.1,2 Sulfites are still used in some foods, however, and occur naturally during the fermentation of wine.1 

The FDA now requires that any food with the addition of more than 10 parts per million (ppm) concentration of sulfites to be declared on the label. Foods that contain less than 10 ppm of sulfites have not been shown to cause symptoms, even in people allergic or sensitive to sulfites. 2

While regulations do exist that require ingredient lists show sulfites if they were added to a product, this requirement does not apply if they are contained in an ingredient. For example, if a product includes an ingredient that contains sulfites, such as dried fruit, then the ingredients label may only list "dried fruit" and is not required to indicate whether the dried fruit itself contains sulfites. Increasingly, many companies voluntarily label sulfite-containing foods.3

Table 1 indicates which foods contain sulfites, organized by the amount of sulfites typically found in these foods.

Table 1: Foods that contain sulfites:
Amounts greater than 100 ppm of sulfites
(very high levels, strict avoidance advised in people with sulfite allergy)
  • dried fruits (excluding dark raisins and prunes)
  • bottled lemon juice (non-frozen)
  • bottled lime juice (non-frozen)
  • wine
  • molasses
  • sauerkraut (and its juice)
  • grape juices (white, white sparkling, pink sparkling, red sparkling)
  • pickled cocktail onions
Amounts between 50 and 99.9 ppm of sulfites
(moderate to high levels of sulfite, avoidance advised in people with sulfite allergy)
  • dried potatoes
  • wine vinegar
  • gravies/sauces
  • fruit toppings
  • Maraschino cherries
Amounts between 10 and 49.9 ppm of sulfites
(low to moderate levels of sulfite, may cause symptoms in people with severe sulfite allergy)
  • pectin
  • fresh shrimp
  • corn syrup
  • pickled peppers
  • pickles/relish
  • corn starch
  • hominy
  • frozen potatoes
  • maple syrup
  • imported jams and jellies
  • fresh mushrooms
  • imported sausages and meats
  • cordials (alcoholic)
  • dehydrated vegetables
  • various cheeses
  • corn bread/muffin mix
  • canned/jarred clams
  • clam chowder
  • avocado dip/guacamole
  • imported fruit juices and soft drinks
  • ciders and cider vinegars
Amounts less than 10 ppm of sulfites
(very low sulfite levels, generally do not pose a risk, even for people with sulfite allergy)
  • malt vinegar
  • canned potatoes
  • beer
  • dry soup mix
  • soft drinks
  • frozen pizza and pie dough
  • beet sugar
  • gelatin
  • coconut
  • fresh fruit salad
  • domestic jams and jellies
  • crackers
  • cookies
  • grapes
  • high fructose corn syrup

Sulfite-containing ingredients to look for on food labels include:4

  • Sulfur dioxide
  • Potassium bisulfite or potassium metabisulfite
  • Sodium bisulfite, sodium metabisulfite, or sodium sulfite


Sulfites and Wine

Sulfites occur naturally in all wines to some extent.5
Additionally, 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.
Organic wines are not necessarily sulfite-free.7
In general, sweet (dessert) wines contain more sulfites than dry wines, and white wines contain more sulfites
than red wines.8 In the United States and Europe, wines must have a label stating that they
contain sulfites if they contain more than 10 parts per million.7,9

Citations

1

NIH: National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases

Food Allergy.

2

About.com: Allergies.

Sulfite Allergy.

3

Wikipedia.

Sulfite.

Zacharkiw, Bill, Montreal Gazette (July 15, 2008).

"Can’t hold the sulphites".

7

Breton, Félicien:

Many organic wines contain sulfites.