Sulfite Allergies

By Heather Legg

I recently was reading about sulfite allergies, and thought it was a fitting time of year to write about them, with the holidays and parties and extra opportunities to have a cocktail. Sulfite allergies are not to be confused with sulfa allergies (usually an allergic reaction to a sulfa containing anitbiotic like Septra, Bactirm or Pediazole). A sulfite allergy is a reaction to a sulfite or sulfate agent which are common preservatives in foods such as dried foods, fruit juices, baked goods, processed foods, certain seafoods and…wine.

Winemakers have been adding sulfur dioxide to wine for hundreds of years to preserve the wine and prevent spoiling. It also stops oxidation, preserves the flavor and inhibits the growth of molds and bacteria.

Years ago, if I had a glass of wine and ate scallops at the same meal, I’d get a very adverse reaction consisting of light headedness, yawning, and even feeling disoriented and faint. No, it wasn’t from too much wine, it was from the combination of sulfites in both foods. Weirdly enough, it took a waiter with this same reaction to reach this conclusion.

Many wines do contain sulfites, so if you’ve had a reaction before, you may need to make sure the one you drink is sulfite free. You can usually find this information on the bottle. Also, some wines have more sulfites than others, though they all contain at least a trace of sulfites due to the natural fermentation.

If you are looking for a lower sulfite wine, try organic. According to, in the U.S., wines can contain up to 350parts per million (ppm) of sulfites. Organic winemaking standards, as adopted recently (12/2000) by the USDA, limit the use of sulfites to 100ppm in all finished products. However, most organic wines contain less than 40ppm of sulfites. 

According to FDA regulations, use of sulfites is limited and now manufacturers must label wines with “contains sulfites” if the amount of sulfites exceeds 10 parts per million. If there is no label, the amount will be under 10 parts per million, but remember, you’ll never have sulfite free wine.

Try an organic wine or low sulfite wine this holiday if you’ve noticed these symptoms before. Remember, though, if you drink too much, you can’t blame the sulfites!

1 Comment »


A lot of dried or powdered spices have this… I had a hard time finding a powdered ginger without it! If I eat any spice with sulfur dioxide in it, I get a weird tingling on my face… Some dried fruits have it, too. So now I avoid it all together, year round.

If you are observant of what you eat and when you get the reaction, you can figure out easily its the sulfur dioxide. A food diary can help, too.

December 3rd, 2011 | 8:36 pm
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