Potassium Sorbate – Beneficial Preservative or Harmful DNA Toxin?

potassium sorbate

Processed food is not evil. It helps us spend less time in the fields or in the kitchen and more time doing important things such as playing with our kids or working overtime. One of the tenets of processed foods is an extended shelf life. Often, it is achieved by the use of food additives known as preservatives.

Preservatives have been around for ages, perhaps the best known is salt. Modern food science has brought forth many new chemical preservatives. Unfortunately, some of them have unintended side effects on our health.

Today we’ll examine potassium sorbate, also known as E202, which serves as a preservative in a wide range of foods including:

  • yogurt
  • cheese
  • wine
  • dips
  • pickles
  • dried meats
  • soft drinks
  • baked goods
  • ice cream

Potassium sorbate inhibits the growth of mold. This is important because otherwise you’d open your product and … ewww. So we should be happy that food companies use this preservative, right?

Though found naturally in some berries, potassium sorbate is mass produced synthetically. No harm in that, especially since it makes it cheaper than sourcing from some wild berry in the Himalayas.

Potassium sorabte is also mild skin and eye irritant, but at the amounts used in food, this is not an issue expect for very rare occasions.

However, two studies have shown that potassium sorbate has the potential to mess with our DNA. In one study, PS is clearly seen to be genotoxic to the human peripheral blood lymphocytes (white blood cells). In another study, potassium sorbate mixed with ascorbic acid (vitamin C, which is present in many foods), caused mutagenicity and DNA-damaging activity. the risk demonstrated in the studies is very low, but it is statistically significant.

Bottom line: If you can, try to avoid products using potassium sorbate as a preservative.


  1. Does potassium sorbate induce genotoxic or mutagenic effects in lymphocytes? Mamura, Yüzbaşıoğlua, Ünala, Yılmazb – Toxicology in Vitro (4/2010)
  2. Mutagenicity and DNA-damaging activity caused by decomposed products of potassium sorbate reacting with ascorbic acid in the presence of Fe salt - Kitanoa, Fukukawab, Ohtsujib, Masudac, Yamaguchib – Food and Chemical Toxicology (2002)

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  • KNV

    Harmful effects should be more clearly explained. Damaged or mutinagenic DNA are terms that are too broad and generic to really understand the negative health effects of Potassium Sorbate. What does this really mean? Not very informative as is. Too vague.

    • timlockk

      It means we need to do more studies to assess the safety of these products in the food supply. It is vague, yes, but that’s much better than making false assumptions based on limited data.

      • KNV

        But the title suggests that the article will give more information to help you decide whether or not it is harmful, which it really doesn’t. As it is, the title shouldn’t even ask the question. The article is just an explanation of what the substance is. It is not balanced enough to warrant negative statements in the title. It just seems like an unnecessary scare tactic with nothing to back it up.

        • timlockk

          It’s a way to get you and I to click the link to get more page hits to sell advertising. We fell for it!

          • KNV

            Tsk tsk…Fooducate should be better than that…

  • timlockk

    Call me crazy, but I think spending more time in the kitchen with our kids teaching them how to cook with whole foods is both a wonderful use of our time and a great bonding experience for everyone involved.

  • Disgusted

    I would like to know what a person can do even to eat…everything has some poison …if not this than that…I was shopping and I was reading labels and putting everything back..what do you eat besides fresh veggies and fruit..yes you can cook healthy..but life cannot be about every aspect of food and what these crazy disgusting people put into it…people don’t care enough to educate themselves and stop purchasing junk and people are not interested to boycott these franchises …..what then?????

  • Mr4theluv

    Very unusual article for Fooducate.This one is both poorly written and pretty shallow. I don’t always agree with the opinions and tone of some articles here, but they are generally well written and I leave at least a bit more educated. This is a great and informative blog as a rule, so I’m sure this is just an exception.