Benzoic acid and its derivatives as naturally occurring compounds in foods and as additives: Uses, exposure, and controversy

Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 2017 Sep 22;57(14):3084-3103. doi: 10.1080/10408398.2015.1087964.


Benzoic acid is an aromatic carboxylic acid naturally present in plant and animal tissues, which can also be produced by microorganisms. Benzoic acid and a wide range of derivatives and related benzenic compounds, such as salts, alkyl esters, parabens, benzyl alcohol, benzaldehyde, and benzoyl peroxide, are commonly used as antibacterial and antifungal preservatives and as flavoring agents in food, cosmetic, hygiene, and pharmaceutical products. As a result of their widespread occurrence, production, and uses, these compounds are largely distributed in the environment and found in water, soil, and air. Consequently, human exposure to them can be high, common, and lengthy. This review is mainly focused on the presence and use of benzoic acid in foods but it also covers the occurrence, uses, human exposure, metabolism, toxicology, analytical methods for detection, and legal limits for benzoic acid and its derivatives. Their controversial effects and potential public health concerns are discussed.

Keywords: Benzoic acid; benzoates; foods; health; parabens; toxicology.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Benzoic Acid / analysis*
  • Flavoring Agents / analysis*
  • Food
  • Food Analysis*
  • Food Preservatives / analysis*
  • Humans


  • Flavoring Agents
  • Food Preservatives
  • Benzoic Acid