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Is Potassium Sorbate Bad For You?

Also Known As: the potassium salt of sorbic acid



Short answer

Potassium sorbate is a synthetically produced preservative that is in a multitude of foods and skin care products. There has been limited study on this preservative but it has been liked to cellular DNA damage, allergic reactions and migraines.



Long answer

Potassium sorbate (E202) is the salt derivative of sorbic acid, a polyunsaturated fatty acid found naturally in the mountain ash tree berry, but now made synthetically. Breaking down into carbon dioxide and water once inside the body, potassium sorbate is listed on the “Generally Regarded As Safe list (GRAS list) by the FDA. 

It is used as a preservative in a wide array of products, from skin and hair-care to a plethora of food and beverages. It has definitely become part of our processed food chain. Having anti-microbial and anti-fungal properties, potassium sorbate is used to prevent the growth of harmful mold and bacteria in foods such as cheese, syrups, jams, yogurt, baked goods, oil dressings and dehydrated fruits. It is also found in wine, where it halts mold development after fermentation and prevents additional fermentation. Potassium sorbate is used frequently in processed and cured meats.

Potassium sorbate is usually present in small amount in our foods with the highest levels found in cheese.  Because of the small amounts used the debate stems from what is worse-the preservative or the possibility of contracting a bacterial or fungal infection.

Long term studies on potassium sorbate are lacking – however a 2002 study published in “Toxicity in Vitro” sites that when human blood cells were exposed to potassium sorbate they underwent mutation and damage to DNA. This causes for concern for this damage to develop into dysplasia and eventual higher malignancy risk.

Potassium sorbate can cause allergic reaction externally and internally.  Because this preservative is used in cosmetic products individuals may experience acute skin inflammation with redness, itchiness and hives. Internal allergic reaction can occur within 1-2 hours manifesting with itchiness of the skin, abdominal pain and in severe cases throat swelling and difficulty breathing.

Potassium sorbate has been linked to migraines and is some cases can cause an elevation of potassium in the blood stream. 

Eating organic and cooking nutritious healthy meals at home will help you avoid all of these preservatives that are present in so many of our foods. Our fast passed lives have made this very difficult so if you are eating processed preserved foods then moderation is obviously important.


Possible short-term side effects

  • may irritate skin
  • may irritate eyes

Possible long-term side effects

  • may slightly increase risk of immune deficiency
  • may slightly contribute to dna damage

Commonly found in

  • wine
  • cheese
  • dried fruits
  • skin products
  • hair products
  • yogurt
  • processed and cured meats
  • oil dressings
  • baked goods


  • stops growth of pathogens

Thank you for your feedback!

Written by Dr. Becky Maes
Published on: 02-23-2018
Last updated: 11-28-2023

Thank you for your feedback!

Written by Dr. Becky Maes
Published on: 02-23-2018
Last updated: 11-28-2023

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