Food Additives Gradually Going Down the Drain: Sodium Dehydroacetate (E 266)

Recently, the term HexaTech has been earning a lot of attention on major social media, and the concept of food additives has once again come to the forefront of the masses. Along with all kinds of technical terms come not only doubts and worries but also curiosity and exploration. Today, let's talk about a food additive that is gradually retiring from the stage of history: sodium dehydroacetate.

Sodium dehydroacetate, also often referred to as SDHA, has the molecular formula Na(CH3C5HO(O2)(CH3)CO). As a member of the preservative family, it is used in various products because of its good broad-spectrum antibacterial ability. From instant noodles and cookies to marinated meat products, sodium dehydroacetate has never been absent. In addition to food use, sodium dehydroacetate is widely used in cosmetics and personal care products, such as shower gels, perfumes, sunscreens and etc. In the academic world, sodium dehydroacetate was once considered an effective antibacterial and preservative agent. It can inhibit the growth of bacteria and fungi even at very low concentrations. The mechanism is to penetrate into the cells and inhibit the respiration of microorganisms, thus achieving antiseptic and anti-mold preservation and moisturizing effects (although they do not necessarily kill the microorganisms that have already grown)

Table 1 Sodium Dehydroacetate, a Frequent Guest in the Mooncake Ingredient List

Product Name

Ingredients List

Chunshu (whole wheat) sliced bread

Whole wheat flour, water, sugar, cooking oil, bread pre-baking agent (bran powder, diacetyl mono-diglyceride tartaric acid), fresh yeast, dairy powder, table salt, food additives (calcium sulfate, mono-diglyceride fatty acid ester, vitamin C, tricalcium phosphate, calcium propionate, sodium dehydroacetate)

Chinese Red jujube Mooncake

Wheat flour, white beans, white gourd, Chinese Red jujube, white sugar, vegetable oil, drinking water, edible lard, edible salt, food additives (maltitol liquid, sodium dehydroacetate)

Rose Egg Yolk Souffle

Red beans paste filling (sugar, azuki bean, soybean oil, maltitol, water), wheat flour, salted duck egg yolk, cream, sugar, water, eggs, edible roses, sesame seeds, L-malic acid, citric acid, sodium dehydroacetate


However, in 2021, the National Food Safety Standards Review Committee (NFSRC) issued an exposure draft of a food additive that shook the status of this star member of the preservative family. The public draft opinion, based on the results of food safety risk assessment and the use of sodium dehydroacetate in the relevant industries, revised and deleted dehydroacetic acid and its sodium salt in butter and concentrated butter, starch products, bread, pastry, baked goods filling and surface with hanging paste, prepared meat products, cooked meat products, fruit and vegetable juices (pulp). It is only allowed to be applied in pickled vegetables, pickled edible mushrooms and algae, fermented soy products and compound seasonings. Meanwhile, it adjusted the maximum use of sodium dehydroacetate in pickled vegetables.

Figure 1 The Draft for Comments on Sodium Dyhydroacetate Issued by The National Food Safety Standards Review Committee (NFSRC) 

If this adjustment is implemented, many manufacturers will have to make significant adjustments to the preservative-based additives in their products. Not only do they need to take into account the rising production costs, but they also need to upgrade their technology.

As alternatives to sodium dehydroacetate, sodium diacetate, potassium sorbate and streptococcus lactis, and polylysine are on the list of candidates. However, cost issues aside, each of these candidates has its own shortcomings in terms of food processes. Sodium diacetate has an acetic acid odor that often makes it necessary for companies to further flavor their products. Under the addition threshold of 0.075 g/kg in cooked meat products, the antimicrobial and preservative capacity of Potassium sorbate is highly limited in practical application. Streptococcus lactis, as a peptide, is susceptible to interference by other ingredients in the food and its effectiveness under heat treatment conditions is questionable. Although polylysine can make up for the shortcomings of other preservatives with low activity in neutral and alkaline conditions, its current market promotion is low and not yet fully mature.

It is worth noting that the International Codex Alimentarius Commission (CAC) and the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) have not approved dehydroacetic acid and its sodium salt as food additives, although sodium dehydroacetate is available in the E-number system as E-266 (EC Number:224-580-1, MDL number: MFCD00040583, PubChem Substance ID:57648479, CAS Number:4418-26-2). Japan similarly reduced the maximum allowable additive level of sodium dehydroacetate when revising the food additive standards under the Food Sanitation Law. While the US FDA allows its use as a food additive, the dose and scope of its use are strictly regulated, and it is only allowed to be used in peeled pumpkins with a dose limit of 65ppm.

Figure 2 Japan's Revision of the Amount of Sodium Dyhydroacetate Additives

According to the results of studies conducted by Du Hongju, Tong Guohui, Ning Junyu et al. at the Institute of Health Toxicology, Beijing Center for Disease Control and Prevention/Beijing Preventive Medicine Research Center and Beijing Key Laboratory of Food Poisoning Diagnosis and Traceability Technology, the acute oral toxicity of sodium dehydroacetate in mice was of low toxicity level, and female mice were more sensitive. The subacute toxicity, 200 mg-kg(-1) BW and 100 mg-kg(-1) BW doses caused abnormal changes in several indicators in rats, and the toxic effects were more sensitive in female rats, and the specific mechanism needs to be further investigated. It is inferred that the addition of high doses of sodium dehydroacetate to food products poses certain health risks.

At the end of the article, I suggest that companies should gradually adjust existing food formulations containing sodium dehydroacetate to meet the requirements of new regulations that may be introduced in the future. As the public's awareness of food additives increases, I am convinced that the development of the food additives industry will also be on the rise. After all, the modern food industry system cannot be separated from the support of food additives.



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9. Amendment for food additives standards under Japan Food Sanitation Act

10. CFR - Code of Federal Regulations Title 21

11. Du Hongju, Tan Zhuangsheng, Zhang Nan, et al. Study on the Acute Toxic Effects of Commonly Used Food Additive Sodium Dehydroacetate[J]. Journal of Toxicology, 2022(004):036.

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