lPotassium SorbatelUh, that sounds dangerous... Do I eat that?
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Created by Jonathan Ho & Zack Brooks


A mountain ash, the plant in which Potassium Sorbate was first discovered.
A mountain ash, the plant in which Potassium Sorbate was first discovered.

What is it?

Potassium Sorbate is one of the safest preservatives that scientists currently know about. It was discovered in the 1850's by the French as a product of the Mountain Ash tree; however, today it is most commonly found as a white or pale yellow crystalline powder that is synthesized and dissolves easily in water (1).


Why do people put this in our food?

Why you ask? As stated above, Potassium Sorbate is one of the safest preservatives around, and it is because of this reason that it is used in almost any spoil-able product. This group includes things like meats, cheeses, and other foods, but it also includes the lotions and beauty products that are kept on the shelf (2). These products are enhanced with Potassium Sorbate to increase their safe shelf life, or in simple words, to stop mold. In addition, when Potassium Sorbate is added to wines, it stops the fermentation process, preserving the flavor and body of the wine at the time of adding(1).
The white stream is a packet of Potassium Sorbate being emptied into a batch of homemade wine.
The white stream is a packet of Potassium Sorbate being emptied into a batch of homemade wine.





What's the science behind this chemical compound?

Potassium Sorbate is classified as a salt from the sorbic acid category, and is made by mixing Sorbic Acid and Potassium Hydroxide. It is a very cheap preservative to synthesize, which accounts for it being one of the most common preservatives in the food industry (3). When dissolved in water, the Potassium breaks away, and Sorbic Acid is formed. Potassium Sorbate is effective as a preservative only up to a pH of 6.5, and as you add into more acidic substances, (pH levels of less than 6.5), it becomes less and less effective at fighting off the growth of bacteria (1).



What does it mean if I find this in my food or drink?

According to the Livestrong group, Potassium Sorbate is a very versatile compound that has many uses as a preservative. One of the great pros of adding Potassium Sorbate to food is that it fights the growth of bacteria. This means that a single packet of Potassium Sorbate is essential for products to have long shelf lives(4). In addition, Potassium Sorbate only causes a slight irritation if it where to come into contact with your eyes. Potassium Sorbate can also cause a slight redness
if left in direct contact with skin over a long period of time(5).

A model of the molecular structure of Potassium Sorbate.  The white signifies a Hydrogen, the red signifies an Oxygen, and the purple is the Potassium.
A model of the molecular structure of Potassium Sorbate. The white signifies a Hydrogen, the red signifies an Oxygen, and the purple is the Potassium.




Does the name give me any hints as to what it is?

Potassium Sorbate is the salt of Sorbic Acid, a naturally occurring organic compound. Neutralizing Potassium Hydroxide with Sorbic Acid results in Potassium Sorbate, hence the name(3).


How many atoms of each type are in the structure of this element?

Carbon = 6
Hydrogen = 7
Oxygen = 2
Potassium = 1



Molecular Geometry


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Potassium Sorbate can be found in cheeses, wines, yogurts, meats, and many other products.
Potassium Sorbate can be found in cheeses, wines, yogurts, meats, and many other products.




Resources:

(1)"Potassium Sorbate." Chemicals & Health Supplements | Nutritional & Herbal Supplements, Vitamins, _Pharmaceuticals, Amino Acids. Web. 06 Nov. 2010 <http://www.greatvistachemicals.com/industrial_and_specialty_chemicals/potassium_sorbate.html>.

(2)"Food Additives ~ CSPI’s Food Safety." Center for Science in the Public Interest. Web. 05 Nov. 2010. _<http://www.cspinet.org/reports/chemcuisine.htm>.

(3)"What Is Potassium Sorbate? | LIVESTRONG.COM." LIVESTRONG.COM - Health, Fitness, Lifestyle | _LIVESTRONG.COM. Web. 06 Nov. 2010. <http://www.livestrong.com/article/31559-potassium-sorbate/>.

(4)"What Is Potassium Sorbate?" WiseGEEK: Clear Answers for Common Questions. Web. 06 Nov. 2010. _<http://www.wisegeek.com/what-is-potassium-sorbate.htm>.

(5)"What Are The Dangers Of Potassium Sorbate? | LIVESTRONG.COM." LIVESTRONG.COM - Health, Fitness, Lifestyle _| LIVESTRONG.COM. Web. 06 Nov. 2010. <http://www.livestrong.com/article/269997-what-are-the- ___dangers-of-potassium-sorbate///>.