The objective of this study was to investigate the ability of immune cells of the small intestine to produce highly reactive free radicals from the food additive sulfites. These free radicals were characterized with a spin-trapping technique using the spin traps 5-diethoxyphosphoryl-5-methyl-1-pyrroline N-oxide (DEPMPO) and 5,5-dimethyl-1-pyrroline N-oxide (DMPO). In the presence of glucose, purified lymphocytes from intestinal Peyer's patches (PP) and mesenteric lymph nodes (MLN) were stimulated with phorbol 12-myristate 13-acetate (PMA) to produce superoxide and hydroxyl DEPMPO radical adducts. The formation of these adducts was inhibited by superoxide dismutase or diphenyleneiodonium chloride, indicating that these cells produced superoxide radical during reduced nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide phosphate (NADPH) oxidase activation. With the treatment of sodium sulfite, PMA-stimulated PP lymphocytes produced a DEPMPO-sulfite radical adduct and an unknown radical adduct. When DEPMPO was replaced with DMPO, DMPO-sulfite and hydroxyl radical adducts were detected. The latter adduct resulted from DMPO oxidation by sulfate radical, which was capable of oxidizing formate or ethanol. Oxygen consumption rates were further increased after the addition of sulfite to PMA-stimulated lymphocytes, suggesting the presence of sulfiteperoxyl radical. Taken together, oxidants generated by stimulated lymphocytes oxidized sulfite to sulfite radical, which subsequently formed sulfiteperoxyl and sulfate radicals. The latter two radicals are highly reactive, contributing to increased oxidative stress, which may lead to sulfite toxicity, altered functions in intestinal lymphocytes, or both.