Sulfites in Dried Fruits & Vegetables

October 10, 2011

Most of us think dried fruit is safe - it looks ‘natural’ and doesn't contain added sugars, but beware food allergy sufferers

Increasing our fruit and vegetable intake, and especially encouraging children to eat more of these foods is unarguably beneficial for our health. Clearly whole foods are better than reaching for processed foods in the pantry or those delivered through the window of our cars. Choosing whole fresh fruits and vegetables is the overall best option, but not always the easiest, so grabbing precut or dried fruit is usually the next best bet. In terms of dried fruit, most of us think it’s safe to grab what looks ‘natural’ and doesn't contain added sugars, but unfortunately, this is not always the case, especially for those who suffer from food allergies.

In order to prevent dried fruit, or vegetables like sun-dried tomatoes, from spoilage and preserve that just picked vibrant color, manufacturers treat them with sulfites. Previously, those who were sulfite sensitive or allergic only had to avoid wine, which in small amounts naturally contains sulfites, and certain wineries add sulfites to arrest the fermentation process (there are some sulfite-free wines available). There is mandatory sulfite labeling for wine, so these products can be easily identified. Today, those who are sulfite sensitive have a few more foods to watch out for, as sulfites are used as a preservative in some dried fruit, and potato products, as well as to bleach food starches, condition frozen pie dough and pizza dough (not all), and extend potency of some medications.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) estimates that one in one hundred is sensitive to sulfites and five percent of those have asthma. Symptoms can range from mild to severe or life threatening and can include; increased heartbeat, hives, wheezing, sneezing, dizziness, stomach upset, tingling, difficulty swallowing or anaphylaxis. Foods that necessitate added sulfites, i.e. as a preservative, are required to include the additive on the label. There are various forms of sulfites used in foods including: sulfur dioxide, potassium bisulfite, potassium metabisulfite, sodium bisulfite, sodium metabisulfite or sodium sulfite- so, be sure to read labels.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires food manufacturers to list the eight most common food allergens on labels - milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, fish, shellfish, soy and wheat - so that they can be easily identified by adults and older children. Unfortunately sulfites are not included, but for the most part they are easily identified on food labels. always recommends you read labels; whether or not you have a food allergy, it is wise to know what you are putting in your body. If you are in fact sensitive to sulfites, ask the store manager before purchasing loose or bulk items and some produce, and of course if you are unsure about packaged foods, visit the company’s website or contact the manufacturer directly. advises you to consult your physician before making any changes to your diet.