Sulfites--a food and drug administration review of recalls and reported adverse events

J Food Prot. 2004 Aug;67(8):1806-11. doi: 10.4315/0362-028x-67.8.1806.


Sulfite-sensitive individuals can experience adverse reactions after consuming foods containing sulfiting agents (sulfites), and some of these reactions may be severe. In the 1980s and 1990s, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) acted to reduce the likelihood that sulfite-sensitive individuals would unknowingly consume foods containing sulfites. The FDA prohibited the use of sulfites on fruits and vegetables (except potatoes) to be served or presented fresh to the public and required that the presence of detectable levels of sulfites be declared on food labels, even when these sulfites are used as a processing aid or are a component of another ingredient in the food. In the present study, data from FDA recall records and adverse event reports were used to examine the current status of problems of sensitivity to sulfites in foods. From 1996 through 1999, the FDA processed a total of 59 recalls of foods containing undeclared sulfites; these 59 recalls involved 93 different food products. Fifty (55%) of the recalled products were classified as class I, a designation indicating that a consumer reasonably could have ingested > or = 10 mg of undeclared sulfites on a single occasion, a level that could potentially cause a serious adverse reaction in a susceptible person. From 1996 through mid-1999, the FDA received a total of 34 reports of adverse reactions allegedly due to eating foods containing undeclared sulfites. The average of 10 reports per year, although derived from a passive surveillance system, was lower than the average of 111 reports per year that the FDA received from 1980 to 1987, a decrease that may have resulted in part from FDA regulatory action.

MeSH terms

  • Allergens*
  • Consumer Product Safety*
  • Food Contamination / prevention & control
  • Food Hypersensitivity / prevention & control*
  • Food Labeling / methods
  • Food Labeling / standards
  • Humans
  • Sulfites / adverse effects*
  • United States
  • United States Food and Drug Administration


  • Allergens
  • Sulfites