Dr. Andrea Middleton - Is It Bad For You? Approved by Dr. Andrea Middleton

Is Natamycin Bad For You?

Also Known As: pimaricin, E235



Short answer

Natamycin, also known as pimaricin, is a natural antifungal preservative used to extend the shelf life of various foods by inhibiting yeast and mold. Recognized as Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) by the FDA, it is applied to cheese, dried meats, baked goods, dairy, and beverages. While generally safe for most people, rare cases of allergies may occur. Regular consumption within the approved levels is considered safe and doesn’t pose a significant risk to human health.



Long answer

What is Natamycin and How is it Used in Food Industry?

Natamycin, also known by its brand name Pimaricin, is a naturally occurring antifungal agent derived from certain strains of Streptomyces, a genus of Actinobacteria. Esteemed for its ability to suppress fungal growth without affecting bacteria, it's a polyene macrolide antibiotic with a specific focus on preventing yeast and mold proliferation. This unique trait is particularly beneficial in the preservation of foods, as it extends shelf life without impacting the beneficial bacterial cultures essential in many fermented products.

In the food industry, Natamycin appears under the European food additive code E235. Its main role is as a protective surface treatment, guarding against the growth of molds and yeasts in a variety of food products. These include:

  • Cheeses: Particularly employed to prevent mold growth on the surface of cheese without affecting the ripening process within.
  • Dried meats: Used to avoid fungal contamination during curing and storage.
  • Baked goods: Especially in products that are prone to spoilage due to moisture, such as cakes and tortillas.
  • Different dairy products: To prevent spoilage and extend the freshness of products like yogurt and sour cream.
  • Juices and beverages: To inhibit fermentation by wild yeasts during storage and consumption.

Natamycin is applied in small quantities that are sufficient to inhibit fungal growth while being non-toxic to humans at these concentrations. The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has deemed it Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS), and it's widely accepted and utilized in many countries around the world with various regulations governing its maximum permissible levels.

The inclusion of Natamycin in food products is often accomplished in one of two ways:

  1. Direct addition: The antifungal is mixed directly into the product, such as in cheese, to prevent the growth of mold and yeast throughout the entire product.
  2. Surface treatment: Natamycin is applied to the surface of the food item, forming a protective barrier that is especially useful for goods with a high risk of surface contamination, like cured meats and certain cheeses.

Research on the application of Natamycin in the food industry highlights its safety and efficacy, with numerous studies confirming its minimal absorption by the human digestive system and low potential for adverse effects.

For instance, an assessment by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) evaluated the use of Natamycin on the surface of certain cheeses and dried sausages, and concluded that the presence of Natamycin at the levels typically used to protect these foods from spoilage does not pose a risk to consumers.

It is important to note, however, that the application of Natamycin must adhere to strict guidelines to ensure the continuing safety and effectiveness of this compound in food preservation.

Analyzing Natamycin's Safety Profile: FDA Regulations and Guidelines

Natamycin, also known as pimaricin, is a naturally occurring antifungal agent produced by the bacterium Streptomyces natalensis. It has been utilized not only in the medical field to treat fungal infections but also extensively in the food industry as a preservative. Its safety profile is a significant concern for both consumers and regulatory bodies, leading us to examine the regulations and guidelines provided by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

The FDA has designated natamycin as Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) for use in certain foods. This GRAS status is based on scientific evidence and expert consensus indicating that natamycin is safe for consumption when used as intended. The FDA has stipulated specific guidelines for the application of natamycin in food products, focusing mainly on cheese and dried cured meats where mold growth is a common issue:

  • Cheese Products: Natamycin is permitted in the United States for use on the surface of certain cheese products to inhibit mold growth. The FDA stipulates a maximum level of 20 parts per million (ppm) on the surface of cheese.
  • Dried Cured Meats: It can also be used on the surface of dried cured meats at levels up to 12.5 ppm to protect against fungal growth.

These regulations are in place to ensure natamycin is used in a way that is safe for consumers and effective in preserving food quality. Furthermore, the FDA requires all food additives, including natamycin, to be labeled clearly on the list of ingredients. This transparency allows consumers to make informed choices about the products they purchase and consume. The FDA’s regulation is guided by the evaluation of toxicity studies that assess potential health impacts, including reproductive and developmental effects, allergies, and cancer risk.

It's important to note that the acceptance of natamycin varies globally. For example, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) similarly recognizes natamycin's effectiveness as a mold inhibitor and has evaluated its safety profile. However, European regulations may differ slightly regarding allowable concentrations and applications.

Long-term safety studies, such as those reviewed by the Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA), have not indicated any significant concerning health effects related to natamycin consumption within the levels permitted by the FDA. Monitored consumption studies conducted over the years support the established Acceptable Daily Intake (ADI) for natamycin, which is set at 0.3 milligrams per kilogram of body weight per day by JECFA.

To further back the safety profile of natamycin, researchers conduct periodic reviews of scientific literature to ensure that the latest studies and data align with current understanding and guidelines. As our knowledge about food additives continues to evolve, regulatory authorities may adjust their guidelines accordingly.

For individuals with particular health concerns or dietary restrictions, consulting with a healthcare professional is recommended to understand how natamycin's presence in food may affect them. This holistic approach to evaluating food additives like natamycin helps maintain confidence in the safety of our food supply.

Allergic Reactions and Sensitivity to Natamycin

When discussing the safety of food additives such as Natamycin, it's important to understand that while these substances are generally recognized as safe for the majority, certain individuals may experience allergic reactions or sensitivities. Natamycin, also known by its E number E235, is an antimicrobial agent used to prevent fungus growth in food, especially in cheese and meat products.

Though adverse reactions to Natamycin are quite rare, they are not impossible. Each person's immune system is unique, and what is harmless to one might be a trigger to another. It's crucial to listen to one's own body and notice how it responds to different substances. Here's what you need to know about the potential for allergic reactions or sensitivities to Natamycin:

  • Case Reports: While comprehensive epidemiological data on Natamycin sensitivity is limited, there have been case reports documenting hypersensitivity reactions. These include instances of skin rash, itching, or even, though extremely rare, anaphylaxis, which is a severe and potentially life-threatening reaction.
  • Testing for Sensitivity: If you suspect you have a sensitivity to Natamycin, testing under medical supervision can help confirm your suspicion. This might include a skin prick test or monitoring for symptoms after ingestion under controlled conditions.
  • Potential Cross-Reactivity: If you are allergic to other antifungal medications, you might have a higher likelihood of sensitivity to Natamycin, given that cross-reactivity can occur between similar types of compounds.
  • Avoidance: For those who have confirmed sensitivity to Natamycin, the best course of action is avoidance. This means diligent label reading and, where necessary, communicating with food manufacturers or restaurant staff to ensure the absence of this preservative in food.
  • Professional Consultation: It is always recommended to consult with an allergist or healthcare professional if you have experienced any type of allergic reaction to food additives. They will provide personalized advice and treatment plans if needed.

It's also worth noting that sensitivities and allergies to food additives like Natamycin may be dose-dependent. Hence, consuming food with lower concentrations of the substance may not provoke a reaction in some individuals, while higher doses may trigger an immune response.

In line with this, the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology reports that reactions to artificial preservatives, although quite uncommon, can manifest in various ways and might be underreported due to a lack of awareness or misdiagnosis. This underscores the importance of reporting adverse reactions to healthcare providers to contribute to a better understanding and documentation of such cases.

Overall, while Natamycin is safe for the vast majority of people, and its use is approved by numerous regulatory agencies including the FDA and the EU, awareness and caution are key for those with known or suspected sensitivities.

Long-Term Consumption: Are There Any Risks?

When venturing into the realm of food additives like Natamycin, there's always a concern regarding their long-term effects on health. This antifungal preservative, also known as E235, is welcomed in various industries for its ability to prevent mold and yeast growth in food products—particularly cheese and other dairy items. Understanding the potential health impacts of long-term consumption of Natamycin is crucial for consumers aiming to make informed dietary choices.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), Natamycin is considered safe when used in limited quantities as a food additive. In fact, the Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA) has established an Acceptable Daily Intake (ADI) for Natamycin at 0.3 mg per kg of body weight.

However, the notion of 'long-term consumption' takes us beyond the purview of typical regulation and warrants a closer examination of existing research:

  • Research Limitations: Studies focusing on the long-term consumption of Natamycin are limited. This narrows the scope of our understanding of potential health risks, as chronic exposure to most food additives requires extensive research to gauge safety thoroughly.
  • Role in Antimicrobial Resistance: There's a growing concern amongst scientists regarding the potential for food additives to contribute to antimicrobial resistance. In the case of Natamycin, it is important to discern whether its long-term ingestion could impact the efficacy of therapeutic antifungal agents. However, there is currently minimal evidence to suggest that dietary Natamycin contributes significantly to antifungal resistance.
  • Allergic Reactions: While rare, cases of allergic reactions to Natamycin have been documented. However, these are typically associated with the pharmaceutical application of Natamycin rather than its food additive counterpart. Individuals with known sensitivities should exercise caution.
  • Impact on Gut Microbiota: An emerging area of scientific interest concerns how additives like Natamycin affect the gut microbiome over time. While Natamycin selectively targets fungi, the long-term implications for gut flora health and diversity are not yet fully understood and represent an area warranting further research.

As health experts often emphasize, moderation is key. When consumed within the limits defined by regulatory authorities, Natamycin appears to have a minimal risk profile. Nonetheless, it is important for health-conscious individuals to stay abreast of new research developments. While the current consensus maintains the safety of Natamycin in food products, vigilance is recommended, as our understanding of long-term consumption risks could evolve with advancing research and technological capabilities.

Incorporating a mindful approach to food additives can mean choosing products free from preservatives like Natamycin, particularly for those looking to adhere to a more natural or holistic diet. However, it's also essential to balance such choices with an appreciation for the role of food safety and the prevention of food spoilage, which additives like Natamycin serve to address.

Natamycin vs. Other Food Preservatives: A Comparative Look

When it comes to food preservation, natamycin often stands apart for its specific use and properties. As a naturally occurring antifungal agent, it is commonly used to prevent mold growth on cheese, meats, and other dairy products. But how does it stack up against other preservatives? Let's delve into a comparative analysis to shed some light on this question.

Spectrum of Activity: Unlike broad-spectrum preservatives that target a wide range of microbes, natamycin focuses on preventing fungal growth, including yeasts and molds. This specific activity means it is less likely to disrupt beneficial bacteria, unlike some preservatives such as sodium benzoate or potassium sorbate, which have a broader antimicrobial effect.

Safety Profile: The safety of food preservatives is paramount, and natamycin is no exception. The World Health Organization (WHO) and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations have established that natamycin is safe for consumption within certain limits. It is accepted as a food additive in the EU (designated as E235) and by the FDA in the US. Studies have shown that natamycin has a low toxicity profile when consumed at levels used in food preservation. Comparatively, other preservatives like sulfites and nitrates have been subject to more stringent scrutiny due to potential adverse reactions in sensitive individuals.

Resistance Concerns: The development of resistance to food preservatives is a growing concern. Natamycin is less likely to contribute to antimicrobial resistance compared to preservatives that have antibacterial properties, as it solely targets fungus. Resistance to preservatives like parabens in bacteria has prompted an ongoing discussion about the need for careful use and monitoring of preservatives in foods.

Environmental Impact: Natamycin is biodegradable, which means it has minimal environmental impact compared to synthetic preservatives that might persist in the environment. In contrast, some preservatives are known to cause ecological disturbances; for example, triclosan can be harmful to aquatic ecosystems.

Natural vs. Synthetic Origin: One of the allures of natamycin is its natural derivation from bacterial fermentation. Consumers seeking natural or clean-label products may prefer foods preserved with natamycin over those with synthetic chemicals. Other natural preservatives include rosemary extract and vitamin E (tocopherols), whereas synthetic examples include butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT) and butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA).

By examining natamycin's focused use-case, safety, resistance potential, environmental impact, and natural origin, we can appreciate its unique position in the landscape of food preservatives. Nonetheless, it's important to understand that each preservative serves its purpose and has its own set of benefits and considerations.

Remember, moderation is key, and for individuals with specific sensitivities, consulting with a healthcare provider is always a prudent step when navigating food additives and preservatives. As a nutrition expert, my aim is to present this information to empower you to make informed choices about the foods you consume.

Frequently asked questions

Natamycin is a natural product derived from bacterial fermentation and is considered biodegradable. As such, it typically has minimal environmental impact, especially when compared to some synthetic preservatives that may not break down as easily and can cause ecological disturbances.

The potential for antifungal resistance through the consumption of natamycin is an area of concern; however, current evidence suggests that dietary exposure to natamycin does not significantly contribute to antifungal resistance. Still, as with all antimicrobials, the prudent use of natamycin is essential to minimize the risk of resistance development.

Natamycin is an antifungal agent that specifically targets yeasts and molds. Because of its selective action, it is less likely to affect beneficial gut bacteria, making it a favored preservative in products like cheese and yogurt where maintaining the balance of beneficial bacteria is important.

Natamycin presents several advantages, including its specific action against fungal organisms without broadly targeting bacteria, low toxicity to humans at the concentrations used for food preservation, its natural origin, and minimal environmental impact due to its biodegradability. These attributes make it particularly appealing to those preferring natural food preservatives.

Ask a question about Natamycin and our team will publish the answer as soon as possible.

Possible short-term side effects

  • allergic reactions
  • gastrointestinal disturbances

Possible long-term side effects

  • possible antimicrobial resistance
  • potential unknown effects on gut microbiota

Commonly found in

  • cheese
  • dried meats
  • baked goods
  • dairy products
  • juices and beverages


  • prevents fungal growth
  • extends shelf life of food
  • specific in action, doesn’t affect beneficial bacteria
  • low toxicity
  • minimal environmental impact

Healthier alternatives

  • rosemary extract
  • vitamin e (tocopherols)

Thank you for your feedback!

Written by Rachel Adams
Published on: 12-21-2023

Thank you for your feedback!

Written by Rachel Adams
Published on: 12-21-2023

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