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Sulfite

  • G. W. Gould
  • N. J. Russell

Abstract

As an element, sulfur was well known by the ancients — witness the divine vengeance that befell Sodom and Gomorrah on whom “fire and brimstone” were rained (Genesis). This was not only an act of retribution but of cleansing also, for the burning of sulfur had long been regarded as a means of purification in terms of both physical cleaning and spiritual restoration. In another sense also sulfur was used for its purifying properties, and from the Greek era until relatively modern times, sulfur was burned for the disinfection which its fumes produced. Although not used directly as a food preservative, sulfur was burned sometimes in vessels or places where food or drink was stored. This provides a direct link with modern usage of sulfite as a preservative, because the fumes from sulfur-burning contain gaseous sulfur dioxide (SO2) which is probably the predominant form in which sulfite is taken up by microbial cells to exert its killing action on them. Nowadays the source of SO2 is more commonly from dissolved salts, mainly sodium metabisulfite which, in Europe, is designated food additive E223 or from potassium metabisulfite (E224) (Hanssen and Marsden, 1984). Gaseous sulfur dioxide has the number E220, and where its specific use in food is permitted the regulation applies to all forms of sulfite [e.g. sodium sulfite, E221; sodium bisulfate, E222; calcium sulfite, E226; calcium bisulfate, E227; potassium acid sulfite (potassium bisulfate, E228)]. In the United States, the use of sulfite in its various forms was Generally Regarded as Safe (GRAS). However, reports that sulfite, particularly if inhaled as SO2, could affect some individuals suffering from asthma (Giffon et al., 1989) have led to more restricted and careful use. Indeed, its GRAS status in the United States has been withdrawn for certain fresh products, such as cut potatoes (Food and Drug Administration, 1990), for which alternative preservatives to sulfite are being sought (Laurila et al., 1998). Although inhaled SO2 is quite toxic for humans, the S(iv) oxoanions are relatively harmless because animals have efficient detoxication systems that oxidize sulfite to sulfate (Wedzicha, 1984; Ough, 1993).

Keywords

Flavin Adenine Dinucleotide Pyridoxal Phosphate Food Preservative Food Protection Sulfite Oxidase 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

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© Kluwer Academic/Plenum Publishers, New York 2003

Authors and Affiliations

  • G. W. Gould
  • N. J. Russell

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