Why Preservatives Are A Killer; Great Food Without Nasties

A goodie but a nastie..

Food glorious food. We want it to smell nice, look good and last long.. but what’s the trade-off for this aesthetic perfection?

Gluten-free sausages aren’t that hard to find, especially in the great sausage kingdom of Australia. There are gluten-free varieties on most shelves, and a lot of them are gourmet and really good. However, every single ordinary sausage you buy from supermarkets or butchers have one dreaded component that I aim to avoid; namely preservatives!

Sulphites, or what’s commonly known as “preservative 220” (220-228) can cause a lot of trouble, and it is a really rather common addition to foods because it makes it look pretty. It keeps meat nice and red, stops prawns from getting “black spots”, ensures that dried fruit keeps its luster, and was even sprayed onto salad buffets in certain countries up until this was banned due to the infamous “salad bar deaths”. In the 1970’s and 80’s there were in fact hundreds of reports of severe reactions to sulphites sprayed onto salad bars in restaurants, and there were a whopping 12 documented deaths!

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Salad-bar deaths (image source)

The numbers for sulphite preservatives are:

  • 220 Sulphur dioxide
  • 221 Sodium sulphite
  • 222 Sodium bisulphite
  • 223 Sodium metabisulphite
  • 224 Potassium metabisulphite
  • 225 Potassium sulphite
  • 228 Potassium bisulphite

Sulphites aren’t necessarily a source for immediate concern for everyone and anyone. Not all of us are going to experience issues. I can’t state that sulphites will definitely hurt or not hurt you or your children, it’s an individual thing like any other. However, with all the facts we do have about sulphites and the reactions thereof, I think that it is imperative for the information to be put in front of us so that we can make educated decisions for ourselves and our families. I also think that many people struggle with undiagnosed symptoms that perhaps could be resolved with the right information. Know what you eat! That is my main point.

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So what are the concerns?

For starters, sulphites destroy thiamine (vitamin B1). Thiamine is commonly found in meats, dairy foods and cereals, and by sulphiting these foods we destroy the vitamin we are otherwise supposed to gain from eating it. In fact, a number of pet deaths (cats and dogs) have been reported in Australia due to sulphites in pet food, a result of thiamine deficiency.  Sulphites can otherwise  cause a wide range of problems. Serious asthma attacks can be triggered by even small amounts of sulphites, and otherwise healthy people can experience problems like headaches, irritable bowel symptoms, behaviour disturbance and skin rashes.

Fedup.om.au states that: Australian researchers found that more than 65% of asthmatic children were sensitive to sulphites, and in 1999 the conservative World Health Organisation (WHO) revised upward their estimate of the number of sulphite-sensitive asthmatic children, from 4% to 20-30%.”

Preservatives Consumer trends (image source)

Are sulphites part of your 5 a day?

In addition to meats, dairy foods and cereals, you’ll find sulphite preservatives in dried fruits (almost all of it!), baking products such as cake mixes and flours, in things like tapioca and desserts, in sweets, chocolates and ice creams, gravies, puddings, sauces, minced meat, hot chips and potato products, spreads, yoghurts, fruit drinks (anything fruit flavoured), wine, confectionary, cookies, anything pickled or dried, jams… you name it! Once you start looking for it, it turns up in the darndest things. “A 1994 survey by Australian food regulators found sulphites in more than half the foods tested, including such staples as bread and margarine, with sulphites higher in white bread than wholemeal.” (source: fedup.com.au)

Sulphites can be hard to find because it is so commonly added to foods, and not always declared. Take restaurant dining for example; how would you know what ingredients they use? It’s a bit like detecting gluten really; we have to learn, ask and check. Fast food chains don’t often list sulphites in their ingredient lists, but you can be sure it’s there.

Dried Apricots with Sulphites (image source)

The REAL deal; organic dried apricots (image source)

I used to eat dried fruits because I thought of it as a “healthier snack” than say confectionary. Don’t we all feed our kids dried fruit? Well, perhaps we need to reconsider. Fedup.com.au says that dried fruit is probably the single biggest source of sulphur dioxide your children will ever encounter, although if they are affected, it is unlikely that either you or your doctor will make the connection. You can however get organic dried fruit, or simply dry your own. I remember buying organic dried apricots in the UK, although they looked less than appetising (they are brown because of oxidation) they taste exactly the same as their bright orange counterpart!

To put it into perspective; the Acceptable Daily Intake for a 10-year-old weighing 21kg is just 15mg of sulphite per day. That is ONE dried apricot! (fedup.com.au)

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How natural is seafood really?

My big aha-moment was the discovery of sulphites in prawns. I always felt super healthy enjoying prawns, I mean what could be more natural? Oh how wrong I can be. Without sulphites the prawn won’t retain their beautiful pink and orange colour, and preservatives are poured over them as soon as they hit the trawler! “Prawns always contain sulphites to preserve colour. The maximum permitted level is 30 ppm, but how well is it monitored? One seafood worker explained how they use ‘metta’ (sodium metabisulphite, 223). It is a white powder sprinkled over sackfuls of fresh prawns by people wearing rubber gloves. Some prawns must have higher readings than others.” (source: Fedup.com.au)

Prawns contain preservatives (image source)

Can preservatives be causing your hangover?

Sulphites occur naturally in fermented grape products, such as wine, but are also commonly added to ensure appropriate fermentation and freshness. In fact, some of the “hangover” may be even attributed to the sulphites rather than the alcohol! You can buy preservative free wine, or you can add a product that destroys the sulphites without damaging the quality of the wine. A couple of these products are called SO2GO and PureWine. Happs, a preservative free wine producer, explains the effects of sulphites in wine making:

“Sulphur Dioxide (SO2) is the principle preservative used in the production of wine. People’s tolerance to it varies widely. It’s like bee venom and many other irritants: your susceptibility increases with continued exposure. As you get older you’re increasingly likely to notice its effects. You might start waking up in the middle of the night with a very itchy nose, or have asthmatic tightness, a cough or a headache. The bottom line is that while most people’s bodies can survive without strong reactions to SO2, it is not good for anyone.

The legal maximum level of sulphur dioxide wine is 350 parts per million, a level that may be approached in some bulk product in non glass containers (cask wine). Containers that are permeable to oxygen have a short shelf life. Many other foods less inherently stable than wine depend upon sulphur dioxide as a preservative of colour and condition. Dried fruits and some cold stored fresh fruits are examples. Most large commercial wine manufacturers have highly mechanised production methodologies which require extensive use of sulphur dioxide in the production process. Hand picking and careful fruit management allows a more conservative approach.”

Preservative-free wine

Some other preservative free wines worth mentioning are:

  • 2006 Catherine & Pierre Breton Bourgueil Nuits d’Ivresse
  • 2007 Riesling and Pinot Noir wines ‘sans souffre’
  • Organic Natural Red, NV from Mendocino
  • Domaine des Deux Ânes (producer)
  • Temple Bruer Cabernet Merlot, Langhorne Creek

Bear in mind that preservative-free wines have a shorter shelf life, and should be stored more carefully to preserve its quality.

What to look for?

In Australia and New Zealand the following rules apply: 

“Under the Food Standards Code added sulphites must be declared on the label in the ingredients list when present in foods in concentrations of 10 mg/kg or more as an:

  • ingredient
  • an ingredient of a compound ingredient
  • a food additive or component of a food additive
  • a processing aid or component of a processing aid.”

The Food And Allergy Research Program (FARP) in the USA lists the FDA regulations for sulphite labelling in the States.

Just like you can buy gluten detection test strips online, you can also buy sulphite detection test strips.

If you want to learn more about sulphites, it’s uses and effects on our health, I recommend visiting Fedup.com.au or No Sulphites  You can also take a look at Dangers of Dried Fruit. Fedup is a page that i trust and use all the time. 

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Eating sulphite free is delicious:

As for the safe goodies; I have found an amazing brand of sausages that are not only gluten-free and preservative-free, but also totally Failsafe (learn about the RPAH elimination diet). They are yummy, juicy, flavourful and just really good sausages! My fiance (an Australian male) loves them , and that speaks volumes. They are simply called “Failsafe Sausages” and can be bought at Super Butcher. I have come across an other butcher who does failsafe sausages, but they had a minimum order quantity of 10 kg, and it had to be shipped from Sydney. I simply wasn’t prepared to buy 10 kg of something I didn’t know if I would like. Super Butcher keeps their sausages frozen, and you can ask for more to be ordered in. No minimum quantity required. They also stock Failsafe Chicken sausages, but in all honesty we didn’t love them. They were a bit dry and quite salty. I suppose Chicken sausages can be dry at the best of times though. However, the beef sausages are amazing!

Preservative-free Failsafe sausage pub-mealFor the occasion I decided to make a bit of a gourmet “pub meal” with trimmings. All elements are Failsafe* and of course preservative-free. On the menu is Beef sausages with potato and carrot puree, pear sauce and cabbage salad with coriander, chives and parsley, all topped off with homemade dressing and preservative-free red wine! I really love this cabbage salad, we use it several times a week. It’s so delicious, and cabbage is one of the healthiest vegetables you can possibly eat! Also, it is practically chemical-free (naturally occurring chemicals) and it’s a complete myth that it makes you bloated or “gassy”. Cabbage will only bloat you if it’s been boiled for more than 5 minutes.

(*For the failsafers: Although preservative-free, red wine contains salicylates and amines as well as naturally occurring sulphites. Carrot is only allowed on the moderate diet.)

For 2 people You’ll need:

Failsafe Beef sausages (mine are from Super Butcher)

Potato & carrot puree:

  • 6 small golden delicious potatoes, peeled and cut into quarters
  • 2 carrots, peeled and cut to match the size of the potatoes
  • 2 tbsp Nutellex (or butter)
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Pear sauce:
6 halves of tinned pear in syrup (not juice)

Cabbage salad:

  • 1/4 fresh, washed green cabbage, sliced very thinly with a cheese slicer or similar
  • A sprinkle of fresh chives, coriander and parsley, all chopped


  • 1/4 cup oil (antioxidant free sunflower oil, or light olive oil for moderate diet)
  • 2 tbsp water
  • 2 tsp soft brown sugar (or maple syrup)
  • 2 tsp citric acid (or 2 tbsp lemon juice is tolerated)
  • salt and cracked pepper

A gluten-free and Failsafe Pub Meal!

1) Bring a pot of water to the boil the potatoes and carrots together for 20 to 25 minutes, until very tender. Once they fall of when you stick a fork in them, they are ready. You don’t want to boil them too long as it waters out the flavour. Drain well, return to the saucepan, and steam over low heat until any remaining water evaporates.
2) Put the hot potatoes into a bowl along with the Nutellex (or butter), and use a beater attachment to slowly mash the potatoes until they are creamy.
3) Puree the carrots with an electric handheld mixer, and add them to the mashed potatoes.
4) Add salt and pepper to taste

5) Grill the sausages either on the BBQ, in a pan or in the oven until they are cooked all the way through. They come out beautifully on the flame grill rack on the BBQ.
6) Puree the pears with your handheld mixer and set aside
7) Grate or shred cabbage with a cheese slicer or otherwise very finely. The finer, the better it will taste!
8) Chop the herbs and mix them in with the cabbage
9) Mix the dressing, shake it well and pour it sparingly over the cabbage salad.

Serve up each plate with potato puree, sausages and pear sauce, and cabbage salad on the side! Delicious!

Along with our Pub Meal we served Gluten Free Worcertershire Sauce from Beerenberg (very yummy!) and preservative-free red wine (nb: neither are suitable on the elimination diet).

Gluten-free and failsafe “Pub Meal”

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13 Comments on “Why Preservatives Are A Killer; Great Food Without Nasties”

  1. Pingback: Why Preservatives Are A Killer; Great Food Without Nasties | Thank … | Know What You Eat

  2. So happy to have found your blog and love this post! We try to do REAL food as much as we can, but after reading this I will be even more careful with preservatives. Thank You!


  3. Thanks for sharing. I already knew most of this information but it good to get it out there. My husband is intolerant to gluten and sulphites but particularly the sulphites. Also found out recently that pure corn flour is not that pure. The corn is soaked in sulphur dioxide before it is milled. Also Tapioca & potato flour contain sulphites. When with other ingredients not usually enough to put on the packaging but enough to effect my husband.


  4. Really great post & very interesting. I have tried preservative free wine & not really liked it so I am keen to try your recommendations. Also I will try the sausages! Yum!


    • Thanks Caralee, I do hope you find one you like. I think the clue is to go for the slightly better quality ones. The brands I’ve listed have come recommended from a wine magazine, so they should be good. If you find another brand you like then I’d love to hear from you! -Kristine


  5. I do wonder why people are so worried about sulphides in food when they use coal tar dies on their lips, happy to eat food while reading magazines and papers (ink and solvent residues) and ignore the dangers of crumbling lead paint in and around houses built before 1969 and persistent organochlorines used in almost every back yard after ww2. BTW those lovely railway sleepers around your vegi patch are saturated with Deldrin and asbestos fibers from train brakes.


    • Hi Philip,

      Thank you for your comment!

      I think it is quite right that we need to pay attention to the toxins we surround ourselves with on many levels. You are making a great point!

      Perhaps someone else has an opinion. Are there too many toxins in our lives? How do we deal with it?



      • Lorriane J Summers, Yes I do belive that we have far too many TOXINS that are in our food and in and around our homes; I have suffered for 5 years,and never found an answer, all medical tests show no cancer or growths in the gut, or elswhere for that matter, so I have been looking at presatives in the food… Have always had a good diet, am not overweight and till 5 years ago was extremly active and happy and well for my age 73 years. Now it is an effort to stay standing for any lenght of time ,am constantly weak ,dry reaching and sick in my gut with pain….only tests show acute gastritis ,but what has caused this we do not know….. Hence the research into presitives in any of the food I eat…..IF THERE IS ANYONE out there who may have a suggestion please please say so, I simply cannot continue to live like this…


        • Dear Lorraine, I am so sorry to hear that you’re struggling! I would suggest you contact your GP and get a referral to a certified nutritionist for a thorough elimination diet. An elimination diet may help uncover which foods or chemicals you may be reacting to. Personally, I always choose 100% organic foods where I can, as I believe in limiting artificial additives both for the sake of my health and the environment. I really hope your doctor will help you find a good nutritionist, and that you will get the help you need to identify the culprits! Wish you all the best! Regards, Kristine


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