Health Q&A: Are Sulfites Dangerous?

Jun 14, 2007

Q: I'm a sommelier, and I was wondering whether sulfites in wine cause major health concerns? — Bruno

A: Sulfites, which are added to wines to prevent bacterial growth, are also found in products like dried fruit, baked goods and pickled foods. They cause allergic reactions in a very small percentage of the population. Most people who complain of headaches when drinking wine are reacting to other substances present in wine, such as alcohol. Those actually allergic to sulfites suffer from symptoms ranging from rashes to abdominal pain to breathing problems when exposed to sulfites. Because sulfites occur naturally in wine due to the fermentation process, they are present at some level in all wines. A few wines are made without added sulfites, but they are quite perishable. In the United States, wines that have more than 10 parts per million of sulfites must bear a label that says "contains sulfites."

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