Ask A Butcher…About Sulphites (Or our replacement for them…)

Posted by Erica Jones on

Ah yes. Preservatives. The consumption of, and the addition to food is a vexed issue. (vexed is such a GREAT word!… 🙂)

We thought we’d shed some light around their use…

What are sulphites?

Sulphites are naturally occurring minerals with a long history of use in foods. (They have been used for centuries by the ancient Greeks and Romans to preserve wine). They naturally occur in some foods but are widely used as an additive to prevent microbial spoilage and preserve colour.

The following is a list of products they are currently found in, in Australia:

  • cordials, juice, fruit juice drinks
  • dried apricots, apple
  • ‘fresh’ fruit salad in cans/containers
  • dried vegetables (i.e. dried peas and instant mashed potato)
  • pickled vegetables (i.e. onions, gherkins, etc),
  • pickles and chutneys
  • vinegar
  • wine, (esp. white wine in casks), beer
  • sausages
  • soft drinks
  • fish & shellfish (cooked and uncooked)
  • flour products incl noodles and pasta, biscuits, cakes and pastry
  • sausage rolls
  • sauces, toppings, mayonnaise
  • candied fruit
  • fruit toppings, syrups
  • potatoes (hot chips, french fries, etc)

I know – a lot more than you thought right?!

International scientific committees and FSANZ have thoroughly investigated the safety of sulphites and concluded that for most people, sulphites are safe.
HOWEVER, some sulphite-sensitive people, many of whom also have asthma, may react to sulphites with allergy-like symptoms. And in a small number of sensitive asthma patients, they can trigger wheezing and throat tightening, frequently within one or two minutes of consumption.

The most widely used are sodium metabisulphite and sulphur dioxide, which list as (223) and (220) on ingredients listings. Something to check for!

So what about in a standard butchery?

There are only TWO types of meat products in a butchery that sulphite can LEGALLY be added to:

Processed meat, poultry and game products that are, or are produced using, comminuted meats ( An example: hamburger patties made from sausage meat or meat with herbs or other seasonings)

Sausages and sausage meat (Examples: Sausage rissoles, chipolatas, frankfurters, luncheon meats, salami, pepperoni.)

At Vincentia Butchery we don’t use it in any of our products. We are not fans of any chemical additives, and in the search for substitutes, we have found Rosemary Extract as an excellent stand-in.

Rosemary extract, instead of sulphites, is a natural preservative that extends shelf life.

The antioxidant properties of rosemary extract come from bioactive compounds in the plant known as polyphenols. Rosemary contains carnosic acid and rosmarinic acid, both of which help delay oxidation of fats and slow down the effectiveness of any microorganisms that cause food to spoil.

Minced meat products that are filled into natural skins have a shelf life of less than 24hours. This would mean all sausage products would need to be frozen as soon as they are made, in order for them to keep. This is, frankly, inconvenient to most customers, who want to purchase sausages for their breakfast, lunch or dinner, on the day they actually want to eat them.

We make sausages everyday. Fresh. But we understand that people also like to purchase meat ahead time, so we use a small (and I do mean small) amount of natural rosemary extract, as a preservative, to extend shelf life from 1 day, to 3days. 

How much? Less than ½ of ONE SINGLE GRAM per 1kg of meat.

And (just like Nitrates/Nitrites) YOU DON’T EVEN NEED THAT MUCH.

A survey by FSANZ found in a random test (of more than 156 different types of sausages) the mean (average) amount of preservative found in sausages was between 163mg and 317mg / 1 kg. So between ⅛ and ⅓ of ONE SINGLE GRAM of sulphite; far below the legal amount.

NO OTHER products in a butchers shop should use sulphites or preservatives.

If there are sulphites present in any other products – plse be aware – this is ILLEGAL.

You will NOT find it in ANY of the following:

  • Any fresh raw meat, game or poultry
  • Any minced beef, chicken, lamb, pork, venison etc.
  • ‘100% meat’ hamburger patties (these are not processed meats)
  • Any Processed (including cured) whole meat cuts such as shoulder or leg ham, corned beef, silverside,
  • Any marinated meat
  • Any cured meats such as bacon, prosciutto, pastrami, smoked chicken or turkey
  • Any dried meats such as jerky

We are not allowed to put any preservatives in ANY of these products. And we are inspected. Every year. Only stupid butchers would add sulphites to these kind of products. There are massive fines (up $500 000) and imprisonment (up to 2 years) if you do.

Additionally, if you are still completely leery about the whole preservatives/rosemary extract issue, or you have a sensitivity, there are still other options available to you.

– We sell PRESERVATIVE-FREE sausages in store. Let us know the day before and we can make them up on the day you want them, or portion them up and freeze them, for pick up any time.

They’re delicious. The only difference is they have to be consumed within 24hours.

So, it’s not all bad news right?

To recap – TL;DR:

  • Sulphites are naturally occurring and are found EVERYWHERE (check out that list!)
  • Their use is strictly regulated
  • Vincentia Butchery DOES NOT USE THEM, rather we substitute with rosemary extract, and only in sausages
  • Completely preservative-free sausages are also available in store.


For more information – check out the Food Standards Australia & New Zealand – particularly their info re additives in food. Super interesting reading:…/sulphi…/Pages/default.aspx

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