Sodium benzoate (Benzoic acid)
Rating: Certain people should avoid
Preservative: Fruit juice, carbonated drinks, pickles.
Manufacturers have used sodium benzoate (and its close relative benzoic acid) for a century to prevent the growth of microorganisms in acidic foods. The substances occur naturally in many plants and animals. They appear to be safe for most people, though they cause hives, asthma, or other allergic reactions in sensitive individuals.
Another problem occurs when sodium benzoate is used in beverages that also contain ascorbic acid (vitamin C) or erythorbic acid (also known as d-ascorbic acid). The two substances, in an acidic solution, can react together to form small amounts of benzene, a chemical that causes leukemia and other cancers. Though the amounts of benzene that form are small, leading to only a very small risk of cancer, there is no need for consumers to experience any risk. In the early 1990s the FDA had urged companies not to use benzoate in products that also contain ascorbic acid, but in the 2000s companies were still using that combination. A lawsuit filed in 2006 by private attorneys ultimately forced Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, and other soft-drink makers in the U.S. to reformulate affected beverages, typically fruit-flavored products.