Levels of Benzoate and Sorbate in Soft Drinks within Legal Limits: UK FSA

25 Nov 2008 --- Clair Baynton, Head of Novel Foods, Additives and Supplements Division at the Food Standards Agency, said: 'It’s good to see that on the whole the drinks industry are complying with the EU law on levels and labelling for benzoates and sorbates.

25/11/08 Levels of the preservatives benzoate and sorbate in soft drinks are within legal limits, according to a new survey by the Food Standards Agency.

The survey ran between January and May 2008 and analysed 250 fizzy and still soft drinks from ten different regions in the UK. Ninety nine per cent of the samples were within the legal limits and were labelled correctly. Only one sample was over the limit for benzoates set by additive rules. The level found did not pose a concern for people's health but the manufacturer and local authority were both notified. The local authority is now working with the manufacturer to ensure the product complies with the additive laws. In addition, two other drinks failed to declare sorbic acid accurately on the ingredients label. These products will now be relabelled by the brand owner.

Clair Baynton, Head of Novel Foods, Additives and Supplements Division at the Food Standards Agency, said: 'It’s good to see that on the whole the drinks industry are complying with the EU law on levels and labelling for benzoates and sorbates. These additives help to stop bacteria that can grow in fizzy and soft drinks.'

Benzoates (E210-213) and sorbates (E200, E202-203) are used as preservatives in various foodstuffs. A survey of their use in soft drinks has been conducted to determine the actual usage levels of these additives in drinks and to ensure manufacturers are complying with legislation. This follows on from a similar survey conducted in 2005.

The use of benzoates and sorbates in foods is controlled by The Miscellaneous Food Additives Regulations 1995 (Statutory Instrument (SI) 3187) as amended. Benzoates and sorbates are permitted to be used in non-alcoholic flavoured drinks (excluding dairy-based drinks). The maximum permitted level for benzoates in soft drinks is 150 mg/l (expressed as benzoic acid). The maximum permitted level for sorbates is also expressed as the free acid and is 300 mg/l when used singly or 250 mg/l when used in combination with benzoates. The maximum permitted levels refer to foods ready for consumption as prepared following manufacturers’ instructions. Therefore, for concentrates (squashes), the levels apply to the drinks when diluted according to manufacturers’ recommendations.

Soft drinks are likely to be the major contributing factor to the intake of benzoates and sorbates for young children, due to the high levels of consumption of these products by this age group. The information from this survey will be used to further refine intake estimates for these preservatives, and to inform future European Union discussions on maximum permitted levels of benzoates and/or sorbates in foods.

The preservatives considered in this study are benzoic acid (E210), sodium benzoate (E211), potassium benzoate (E212), calcium benzoate (E213), sorbic acid (E200), potassium sorbate (E202) and calcium sorbate (E203). The acceptable daily intakes (ADI) for sorbic and benzoic acid are 25 and 5 mg/kg body weight/day respectively. The ADI is the amount of food additive, expressed on a body weight basis, that can be consumed daily over a lifetime without appreciable health risk.

Out of 250 soft drinks sampled, one (< 1%) contained a level of benzoic acid in excess of the maximum permitted limit of 150 mg/l. The level found in this sample (sample 08-216234) was not a concern for consumer health, but there is a need to ensure compliance with additive legislation. The manufacturer analysed another bottle of this drink from the same batch and reported the result was less than 150 mg/l.

Two other drinks (1%) contained levels of sorbic acid likely to have a technological function, but which were not declared on the ingredients label. For these products the brand owner is working with their local environmental health officer and has either altered the label (sample 08-216241) or is reviewing it (sample 08-216250).

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