Calcium propionate is a food additive present in many foods, especially baked goods. It acts as a preservative to help extend shelf life by interfering with the growth and reproduction of microorganisms. Though it has its benefits for food manufacturers, you may wonder whether calcium propionate is safe to eat. This article explains what calcium propionate is and whether it’s safe.
Calcium propionate is a naturally occurring organic salt formed by a reaction between calcium hydroxide and propionic acid. It’s commonly used as a food additive — known as E282 — to help preserve various food products, including:
- Baked goods: breads, pastries, muffins, etc.
- Dairy products: cheeses, powdered milk, whey, yogurt, etc.
- Beverages: soft drinks, fruit drinks, etc.
- Alcoholic drinks: beers, malt beverages, wine, cider, etc.
- Processed meats: hot dogs, ham, lunch meats, etc.
Calcium propionate extends the shelf life of various goods by interfering with the growth and reproduction of molds and other microorganisms. Mold and bacterial growth are a costly issue in the baking industry, as baking provides conditions that are close to ideal for mold growth.
Calcium propionate has been approved for use by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), World Health Organization (WHO), and Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).
SUMMARY: Calcium propionate is an organic salt that helps preserve food by interfering with the ability of microorganisms, such as molds and bacteria, to reproduce.
Is it safe to eat?
Calcium propionate was extensively studied by the FDA before it was classified as “generally recognized as safe”. What’s more, the WHO and FAO have not established an acceptable daily intake, which means it’s considered very low risk. An animal study showed that feeding rats 1–3 grams of calcium propionate daily over 4–5 weeks had no impact on growth.
Similarly, a 1-year study in rats showed that consuming a diet comprising 4% calcium propionate — a higher percentage than people would consume daily — had no toxic effects.
Most lab studies on calcium propionate and toxicity came back negative, except for a few that used exceptionally high amounts. For example, in one of these studies, researchers injected high amounts of calcium propionate into the yolk sacs of chicken embryos, resulting in abnormalities.
It’s also worth noting that your body does not store calcium propionate, which means it won’t build up in your cells. Instead, the substance is broken down by your digestive tract and readily absorbed, metabolized, and eliminated.
SUMMARY: Calcium propionate has been extensively studied, and research shows that it is safe to eat, which is why the FDA labels it as “generally recognized as safe.”
Generally speaking, calcium propionate is safe with little to no side effects. In rare situations, it may cause adverse effects, such as headaches and migraines. One human study linked propionate intake to the increased production of insulin and glucagon, a hormone that stimulates glucose (sugar) release. This can lead to insulin resistance, a condition in which your body cannot use insulin properly, which may lead to type 2 diabetes.
In addition, a study in 27 children found that some experienced irritability, restlessness, poor attention, and sleep issues after consuming calcium-propionate-containing bread daily. However, more human studies are needed in these areas before it can be determined that calcium propionate causes these effects.
That said, the additive should not cause issues for most people. If you have any concerns about calcium propionate or believe that it may be causing you issues, it’s best to consult your healthcare provider.
SUMMARY: In general, calcium propionate is safe for most people, but in rare instances, some people may experience side effects.
The bottom line
Calcium propionate is an organic salt that is used as a food additive. It helps preserve foods, mainly baked goods, by interfering with the growth and reproduction of microorganisms, such as molds, bacteria, and fungi.
Calcium propionate’s safety has been extensively studied, and it appears to be safe with minimal side effects for most people. In rare instances, people may experience headaches or migraines.
While some studies have demonstrated connections between propionate and both negative behavioral effects in children and insulin resistance, more research is needed to determine whether propionate caused these effects.
If you feel that calcium propionate is causing you problems, it’s best to speak with your medical provider.