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Sulfites, The #9 Allergen in Foods You Can Do Without

Among the top 9 allergen ingredients that one might have a life threatening reaction, #9 “sulfites” are not one that most people think of when reading food labels or discuss as a topic at PTO meetings. Sulfites are used as a preservative agent in dried fruits, beverages, alcoholic beverages such as wine, fresh breads and crackers as well as bread crumbs, and any other packaged foods that require preservatives. It may also be listed as potassium bisulphate, metabisulphite, sulfur dioxide, sulphurous acid, sulphiting agents, E220 and E221 on food labels. It is also not an ingredient that allergist skin test for and therefore may be missed when looking for a trigger to allergies. Allergic reactions include urticaria, asthma, rashes, and anaphylaxis swelling of the lips and throat. In 1986 the Food and Drug Administration banned the use of sulfites on fresh fruits and vegetables, especially those used as preservatives in salad bars. Unless the food has more that 10 parts per million, the FDA does not mandate that the preservative is listed on the ingredient label.

What is even more frustrating is that even organic labeled foods, such as breads, may contain sulfites as preservatives. Furthermore, the labels tend to change from time to time making your job to check the label mandatory each and every food purchase. Sometimes the only safe option is the fresh made french loaf that was baked that morning and won’t last 24 hours.

School lunches are also sulfite laden. Pizza, chicken nuggets, even some apple juice beverages were all preserved with sulfites according to the district nutritionist at our local school. It is rather shocking how little we know about which ingredients are in our school lunches and it is no surprise that my children eat homemade lunches given their anaphylaxis reaction to sulfite.

Those people who have asthma may have up to 5% increase in symptoms when exposed to sulfites. Have you ever had a bad asthma attack shortly after eating a particular food you were not allergic to? Perhaps sulfites are to blame.

Some medications also contain sulfites. It is best to alert your doctor to check each medication for the sulfite preservative, especially in inhaled and intravenous medications. Ironically, the epi-pen, a life threatening injectable medication also contains sulfites to reduce the discoloration of the medication. However, it is recommended for use even with those having a life threatening allergic reaction to sulfites.

For more information on how to treat your reaction to sulfite allergies, consult your allergy doctor.

Janet Haliday Millan