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. Mamur S, Yüzbaşioğlu D, Unal F, Yilmaz S.  Does potassium sorbate induce genotoxic or mutagenic effects in lymphocytes? Toxicol In Vitro. 2010;24:790-4.
  2. Hasegawa MM, Nishi Y, Ohkawa Y, Inui N.  Effects of sorbic acid and its salts on chromosome aberrations, sister chromatid exchanges and gene mutations in cultured Chinese hamster cells. Food Chem Toxicol. 1984 ;22:501-7.
  3. Kitano K, Fukukawa T, Ohtsuji Y, Masuda T, Yamaguchi H. Mutagenicity and DNA-damaging activity caused by decomposed products of potassium sorbate reacting with ascorbic acid in the presence of Fe salt.  Food Chem Toxicol. 2002;40:1589-94.

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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…

    • Mark

      I think the article is pretty clear. There are studies which have verified that it has damaging effects on DNA and Human while cells. Even if these effects are limited, the products which contain Potassium Sorbate with and without ascorbic acid are HUGE – it is in a LOT of processed foods and used in MOST wines to prevent mold. Obviously more studies need to be conducted but as always, these SHOULD be conducted LONG before being put into our food in mass. Food companies, chemical manufacturers and the FDA are using us as their guinea pigs and should be stopped. Chemicals are NOT humans and should not be treated as innocent until proven guilty by thousands of sicknesses and death. The problem is that with all the chemicals we ingest over such a protracted period of time – it becomes impossible to pin down which one (-s) were the causal agents in various diseases. All testing should be EXTENSIVE and done PRIOR to mixing it into our foods. If even one study revealed a potential of the damaging effects suggested in this article – it should be pulled indefinitely until 100% proof of its safe use can be established.

  • 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?????

    • mahope

      Hello everyone,
      Disgusted you pulled at my hearts strings so I decided to post. 2 years ago we received a new bundle of joy in the form of a 90 pound, 10 year old, non verbal autistic grandson. I was spinning in circles to put it mildly. WE (my husband & I) wanted to help. We were supposed to have our bundle of joy for a year but he has fit like a glove in our hearts & is here to stay.

      I spent countless hours researching,reading labels,looking for & researching Doctors,Doctor appointments,schools, teachers, treatments,food allergies,nutrition,etc, etc… The list & possibilities were endless.

      I can honestly say that today by eliminating 1 item at a time things around my home & life have changed significantly, I didn’t think about all the bad things still lurking around my home, it became to over whelming for me to handle. I soon realized that by eliminating 1 thing such as High fructose sugar that I just eliminated thousands of products from our use. then I moved onto using raw forms of products such as sugar & salt,organic seasonings(this means throwing out the old & not replacing with the same product). If its painful to throw out give it to 1 of those persons that don’t care, but take advantage of the opportunity to share WHY you are throwing it out. I didn’t feel so guilty then about wasting my money to begin with or the idea that I am giving away what I believe is poisoning my family.

      My grandson gave me the best present for Mothers Day this year. He asked his 1st question. It still brings tears to my eyes thinking of the overwhelming joy we shared that day.

      The reason I even visited this page was for the article about potassium sorbate. I want to make some homemade bug repellant. I was getting eaten alive in my garden weeding the 40 pickling cucumber plants I planted so that I can put a 100 jars of organic pickles up for him to eat this fall,winter and spring. See it all starts with 1 small action, Once you figure that out move onto the next. If you don’t figure it out move onto the next (as you can see, i said NEXT not the REST)thats just to big for me. I’ve decided to use sea salt in my bug repellant for now. I will come back to do more research though.

      And by the way. My grandsons 1st question was,” Hey, what is this) as he pointed to a dish that was covered on the table.

      Hope this was helpful. I guess the short version for me is All things are possible with God who gives me strength. Take one day at a time & one change at a time :-)

      Take care,

  • 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.

  • Brian

    i found this article for some education, but the very first sentence made me immediately stop reading. what a joke.