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Potassium sorbate is a commonly used food preservative. Specifically, it is the crystalline salt of sorbic acid, also a food preservative. It is used to preserve such foods as cheese, wine, meats and dried fruits. It also helps inhibit the growth of yeast and mold in some herbal supplements and many cosmetic and personal care items, extending shelf life. Having a toxicity level comparable to table salt, it is generally considered safe for consumption; side effects are very rare but may include mild allergic reactions or nausea.
Potassium sorbate was discovered by the French in the 1850s as a product of the mountain ash tree. Today, much of the preservative is synthetically made. It preserves many types of food by preventing unwanted decomposition, mold, fungal and yeast production, which naturally occurs in untreated foods. It is commonly added to such foods as cheese, yogurt, cider, baked goods, dried or cured meats and fish. Without a preservative ingredient such as potassium sorbate the foods we buy from stores would not last very long on the shelves. It also may reduce the risk of spreading disease by inhibiting microbial growth in food products.
Wine makers also commonly add potassium sorbate to batches of fermented wines. Mostly used in sweeter wines, sparkling wines and sometimes hard cider, it also is sometimes added to table wines to help maintain clarity. The preservative stabilizes the wine in its final stage of production by attacking still active and surviving yeast, preventing further fermentation and changes in the wine. For wine drinker who'd rather not consume potassium sorbate, a filter may be used to remove it before consumption.
Similar to perishable foods and drink, many personal care items can grow mold unless a preservative is added. Potassium sorbate is added to items such as shampoos, conditioners, lotions and cosmetics to help extend shelf life. Though considered safe and non-toxic in these items as well as in food, personal care products and cosmetics should be used carefully at first to check for any possible irritations resulting from direct skin contact. Many organic food and personal care companies offer options for people who prefer to avoid preservatives.