What is it?

Sulphites work by releasing a gas (sulphur dioxide) which is used as a preservative in some foods and drinks in order to extend their shelf-life and prolong colour and taste

Sulphur dioxide is a colourless gas with a pungent smell

It is found in the atmosphere in very small amounts

It is called an irritant and can irritate people’s airway (trachea)

What do I need to know?

It is rare to have a true allergy, but sulphites can cause allergy-like symptoms in people (especially if they already have asthma or allergies that cause a runny, itchy nose) (Allergy UK 2015)

There is estimated to be less than 2% of the general population who have a sulphite sensitivity, but this escalates to 5-13% if the person has asthma (Allergy UK 2015)

Since November 2005 the law states that all pre-packed food should show clearly if products contain more than 10mg per kg or 10mg per litre of sulphur dioxide/sulphites (Food Standards Agency 2016)

What are the symptoms?

  • Can be fatal (anaphylaxis)
  • Difficulty breathing, especially if asthmatic
  • Tight chest
  • Cough
  • Itchy lumps on the skin (hives)
  • Itchy, runny or blocked up nose
  • Sneezing

What should I avoid?

Anything that has a label which specifies:

  • Sulphites
  • Sulphur dioxide

The following food additives contain sulphites:

  • E220 Sulphur dioxide
  • E221 Sodium sulphite
  • E222 Sodium hydrogen sulphite
  • E223 Sodium metabisulphite
  • E224 Potassium metabisulphite
  • E226 Calcium sulphite
  • E227 Calcium hydrogen sulphite
  • E228 Potassium hydrogen sulphite
  • E150b Caustic sulphite caramel
  • E150d Sulphite ammonia caramel

What should I check?

  • Baked goods (especially with dried fruit)
  • Beer
  • Bottled lemon juice
  • Bottled lime juice
  • Canned vegetables
  • Champagne
  • Cider
  • Coconut milk (tinned)
  • Condiments, e.g. horseradish, mustard, ketchup, sauces, pickles, relish
  • Crisps
  • Dips, e.g. guacamole
  • Dried fruit, e.g. apricots, banana
  • Dried vegetables
  • Fruit juice
  • Gelatine
  • Glazed fruits, e.g. Maraschino cherries
  • Gravies
  • Guacamole
  • Meat products
  • Molasses
  • Pectin, e.g. apples
  • Potatoes (if dehydrated, pre-cut or pre-peeled)
  • Pickled foods, e.g. onions
  • Prawns – fresh or frozen, e.g. garlic skewered prawns
  • Sausages
  • Soft drinks
  • Soup mixes
  • Sparkling grape juice
  • Tea
  • Tomato paste/puree
  • Vegetable juices
  • Vinegar
  • Wine


Allergy UK (2015)
Food Standards Agency (2016)

Please note this information has been produced using only reliable and evidence-based (where possible) sources. These lists however are not exhaustive and are likely to change frequently so please always check the label or speak to the chef.

Version 1.1 Produced October 2014 Review date July 2016 (currently under review)