Is The Food Additive Calcium Propionate Safe?

Calcium propionate is a common preservative found in baked goods and bread. It is usually combined with sodium propionate and propionic acid to keep baked goods fresh. It helps prevent the growth of mold and bacteria that can otherwise cause the items to spoil. In some types of cheese and butter, calcium propionate occurs naturally as well. Many consumers have often questioned the safety of this food additive. Many food additives are known to have many side effects for your health, so what about the safety of calcium propionate? Read on to find out if the food additive calcium propionate safe.

What is Calcium Propionate?

What is Calcium Propionate?

Calcium propionate is a natural organic salt that is formed when a reaction takes place between propionic acid and calcium hydroxide. It is a common food preservative or additive and is usually referred to only E282. It is used to preserve many types of food products,(1) such as:(2)

  • Baked goods such as pastries, bread, and muffins
  • Beverages such as fruit drinks, soft drinks, and others
  • Dairy products such as powdered milk, whey, cheese, yogurt, etc.
  • Processed meats like ham, hot dogs, lunch meats, and others
  • Alcoholic beverages such as wine, cider, malt beverages, beer, and others

The primary function of calcium propionate is to extend the shelf life of various food items. It does so by disrupting the growth and spread of molds and other microorganisms such as bacteria. (3)

Bacterial and mold or fungi growth can prove to be a costly affair for the baking industry as the process of baking provides the ideal conditions for mold growth. (4)

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), and the World Health Organization (WHO) have all approved the use of calcium propionate as a food additive and preservative. (5) (6) The approval of calcium propionate primarily rests on the fact that it is an antifungal that the human body is believed to process quite easily.

Is The Food Additive Calcium Propionate Safe?

The food additive calcium propionate has been studied extensively by many organizations before being approved for use as a preservative. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has classified calcium propionate as being ‘generally recognized as safe.’ (7)

Other organizations such as the World Health Organization have also approved calcium propionate as being non-toxic and safe to use in the standard amounts that are currently used by food manufacturers.

A study done on rats found that giving rats 1 to 3 grams of calcium propionate every day for 4 to 5 weeks had no impact on their growth. Another year-long animal study found that when rats were given a diet that comprised of four percent calcium propionate every day (which is a higher percentage than what most people would consume daily) had no toxic effect on their growth or any bodily functions. (8)

At the same time, most lab-based studies on calcium propionate and its toxicity levels have come back negative, except for a couple that used very high amounts of the food additive.

Additionally, the body does not store calcium propionate, due to which it does not accumulate in the cells. Rather than building up inside the cells, calcium propionate is broken down by the digestive tract and absorbed, metabolized, and then removed. (7) During the time taken by the digestive system to break down the foods you eat, it also breaks down the calcium from the propionic acid. This is then easily absorbed and metabolized, just like other fatty acids in the body. It is then eliminated.

Rare Side Effects of Calcium Propionate

While calcium propionate is generally considered to be safe with almost no side effects, in some rare conditions, it may lead to some side effects, including migraines and headaches. (9)

A study with 27 child participants found that some of them experienced restlessness, irritability, sleep issues, and poor attention after eating bread that contained calcium propionate every day. (10)

Since there is a lack of human studies in this area, it is challenging to determine for sure whether calcium propionate is responsible for these issues.

However, calcium propionate has been found to be safe for most people and does not cause any health issues.

Conclusion

Calcium propionate is a common food additive and preservative that is known to be safe for almost everyone. There are some very rare cases in which the preservative may cause headaches or migraines, but more human studies are required to prove these effects.

If you feel that calcium propionate is causing some health issues, then it is better to consult a doctor and also try to eliminate the additive from your diet for some time to observe any positive changes.

References:

  1. Tuersuntuoheti, T., Wang, Z., Zheng, Y., Wang, S., Wang, Z., Wu, Y., Liang, S., Li, X. and Zhang, M., 2019. Study on the shelf life and quality characteristics of highland barley fresh noodles as affected by microwave treatment and food preservatives. Food Science & Nutrition, 7(9), pp.2958-2967.
  2. Organization, W. (2020). WHO | JECFA. [online] Apps.who.int. Available at: http://apps.who.int/food-additives-contaminants-jecfa-database/chemical.aspx?chemID=5588 [Accessed 17 Feb. 2020].
  3. Belz, M.C., Mairinger, R., Zannini, E., Ryan, L.A., Cashman, K.D. and Arendt, E.K., 2012. The effect of sourdough and calcium propionate on the microbial shelf-life of salt reduced bread. Applied Microbiology and Biotechnology, 96(2), pp.493-501.
  4. Axel, C., Zannini, E. and Arendt, E.K., 2017. Mold spoilage of bread and its biopreservation: A review of current strategies for bread shelf life extension. Critical reviews in food science and nutrition, 57(16), pp.3528-3542.
  5. Faseb.org. (2020). [online] Available at: http://www.faseb.org/Portals/2/PDFs/LSRO_Legacy_Reports/1979_SCOGS-79%20Propionic%20Acid%20Calcium%20&%20Sodium%20Propionate.pdf [Accessed 17 Feb. 2020].
  6. Organization, W. (2020). WHO | JECFA. [online] Apps.who.int. Available at: http://apps.who.int/food-additives-contaminants-jecfa-database/chemical.aspx?chemID=5588 [Accessed 17 Feb. 2020].
  7. Faseb.org. (2020). [online] Available at: http://www.faseb.org/Portals/2/PDFs/LSRO_Legacy_Reports/1979_SCOGS-79%20Propionic%20Acid%20Calcium%20&%20Sodium%20Propionate.pdf [Accessed 17 Feb. 2020].
  8. Pubchem.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov. (2020). HSDB : 907. [online] Available at: https://pubchem.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/source/hsdb/907 [Accessed 17 Feb. 2020].
  9. Pongsavee, M., 2019. Effects of 3300 del A-1061 Ter BRCA1 frameshift mutation and calcium propionate on oxidative stress and breast carcinogenesis. International journal of molecular epidemiology and genetics, 10(3), p.47.
  10. Dengate, S. and Ruben, A., 2002. Controlled trial of cumulative behavioural effects of a common bread preservative. Journal of paediatrics and child health, 38(4), pp.373-376.

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