Is calcium propionate safe for gluten free baked goods?

Calcium propionate can be found in many gluten free baked goods and it may be the cause of many of migraine headaches. So what’s it included for? Is it really needed?

E282 – Calcium propionate

Calcium propionate “Occurs naturally in swiss cheese; prepared commercially from propionic acid. The propionates occur naturally in fermented foods, in human sweat and in digestion products of ruminants.”

Function: Preservative – antimicrobial mould inhibitor, especially those which occur in bread.

Effects: Some reports link propionate with migraine headaches. The Bakers’s Union in the UK has banned it’s use in its pure form because it provokes skin rashes in bakery workers.

Do we really need mould inhibitors in our bread? Wouldn’t you rather eat it before it got old and stale? Especially if it can cause migraines in people with already sensitive immune systems and digestion.

A study in the “Journal of Paediatric Child Health” in 2002 reported that although calcium propionate may have little to no side effects on the average person, chronic exposure, especially in children, might induce a myriad of behavioral changes. A controlled group of children fed a strict diet without any food additives was compared to a group that was given traditional bread each day. The clinical trial revealed that “irritability, restlessness, inattention and sleep disturbance in some children may be caused by a preservative in healthy foods consumed daily.” These behavioral changes appear to be reversible when the preservative is removed from the child’s diet.

Which bread has calcium propionate? So far I’ve found it to be present in Genius, M&S gluten free and Newburn Bakehouse and I’m sure others. It is also used in most normal bread and baked goods too, not just the gluten free stuff.

Can you use natural mould inhibitors?

If bakers use vinegar to clean utensils and machinery and baked goods are allowed to dry completely before being bagged there should surely be no need to added mould inhibitors.

I found this reference: “Mold inhibitors can be added to breads to lengthen their shelf life. “Natural” mold inhibitors, such as acetic acid (vinegar); raisin-juice concentrate; and glucono-delta-lactone (found in honey, fruit juices and wine) act by reducing pH to retard the initial growth of mold. The food additives propionate and sorbate are effective against mold at low concentrations, but don’t affect product pH. “Fermented wheat flour and cultured whey function as natural sources of calcium propionate,” says Beavan. Propionates and sorbates can be added into dough, batter or filling formulations. Propionates are most effective against mold and bacterial growth. Sorbates inhibit yeast as well as molds, and are used more in cakes, pies, fillings and icings. Both types can be applied as a water-based surface spray to English muffins and scones.”

If there are natural sources of mould inhibitor would they work just as well? or would vinegar for instance affect the flavour? What worries me is the quote above that fermented wheat flour and cultured whey function as natural sources of calcium propionate. Is this the kind bakers are using? Might this be causing me the nodular prurigo and eczema that I get when I eat freefrom gluten free baked goods?

I can tolerate them if I eat them in moderation but can never incorporate as a staple part of my diet. I couldn’t eat gluten free baked goods every day or my skin would be awful.

But do most people consume calcium propionate without any problems? Should I be worrying about this anyway? I guess it’s maybe just me with my ‘processed food free’ attempt at life that I wonder why these strange things are added to our food.

Can you be allergic to calcium propionate?

I couldn’t find any scientific references to allergies to calcium propionate, only some suggestions that it may cause migraines and behavioural changes. So the jury is out. I know most gluten free bread manufacturers try to keep this ingredient to a minimum but what if they stopped adding it altogether?

Would a more natural alternative work just as well?


  • E for Additives by Maurice Hanssen
  • Livestrong
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About RuthS

Ruth works freelance as a copywriter and writes the What Allergy blog to share information with people who have allergies, eczema, asthma and food intolerances. was voted in the top 5 allergy blogs and Ruth also judges regularly for the FreeFrom Food Awards and FreeFrom Skincare Awards. She runs a support group for the Anaphylaxis Campaign and also writes regularly for Exchange, The National Eczema Society quarterly magazine.


  1. A reader, Paul Sheehan, just emailed me with this link, that anyone worried about calcium propionate might consider reading:

  2. Helena Petre says:

    I gave up eating foods containing gluten in March 2014, following an exceptionally severe spate of headaches. I had previously minimised consumption supermarket sliced bread and wheat-containing foods for some years, so had not had much contact with calcium proponiate. In September 2014 I began eating gluten-free breads, rolls and sandwich thins containing calcium proponiate. Almost immediately I started to suffer from severe itching on my lower legs. I blamed it on the cooler weather; possible fleas from my cat; the menopause, etc. Anything but bread, because I reasoned that g-f products must be safe, if not quite sugar-free or healthy! I made various changes such as using different topical creams, avoiding woollen clothing and hot water, etc, but still I itched and could not stop myself scratching until my skin was raw and broken down. This continued for approximately two months, and was very distressing. Eventually I read something on a google search about sulphates/sulphites, and checked out my freezer full of g-f products. Having identified C-P as a possible suspect, I decided to cut it out. I recalled recent occasions when I’d succesfully avoided scratching my legs for a couple of days, only to start again shortly after eating lunch, which contained sandwich thins with C-P as an ingredient.
    Since then, 17 days ago, I have only scratched my legs once, after a very hot bath. After putting shea butter cream on the skin, it calmed down completely and I have had no itch. The skin is becoming less sensitive: dressing and undressing is no longer agony to my legs!
    I emailed one of the manufacturers of g-f products, Newburn House bakery (part of Warburton’s in the UK) about their use of C-P, outlining my experience of allergic reaction. They replied promptly, but said they had no intention of removing C-P, as it was an important ingredient in keeping their products fresh.
    Needless to say, I have not touched any goods with C-P in them since my discovery, and am vigilant in reading labels.
    Although I have had severe headaches and occasional migraines for at least thirty years, these have dwindled to almost nothing since giving up foods containing gluten. The C-P containing foods caused me to have severely itchy skin, but not headaches. As a child, I suffered frequently from ‘mystery rashes’ usually traceable to clothing in the end, but outgrew them by the age of 13. I am, at the time of writing, 50 years old, female and perimenopausal.
    I would like to spread the word about C-P to prevent anyone from having to suffer the distressing itching that I endured. The more people that know about it, the better.

    • WOW so your skin is much better? Mine is much better too, I’m eating a rye bread from the Village Bakery which just contains rye flour, salt and water. That’s it. Simple. I find anything processed doesn’t agree with me to be honest. I can get away with the odd lapse but cannot eat GF baked goods every day. I am sure it’s that calcium propionate.

    • Kim tuner says:

      Hi Helena.

      Interesting reading on your experiences with Calcium Prpionate (cp) !! as over the last month I have started following the FODMAP after seeing my dietitian and have been seeing an improvement in my symptoms and so far I have identified I have an intolerane to fructose. Yesterday I introduced crumpets and sliced bread back into my diet and in the early hours of the morning woke up with heavy headache !! Horrible feeling through my body and IB, back to my previouse symptoms !!!!!! So googled the ingredients one of them being calcium propionate and then found your article on cp with your experience. What is also interesting is my grumpets and bread which I had yesterday are also Warburtons, so they have gone straight into the recycle bin!!!!!

      Thank you

      Kim. Isle of Wight ????

      • I’ve been eating Village Bakery rye bread which I find is OK for me and just made with rye flour, salt and water. Also Artisan Bread or ABO breads make some really different and quirky breads with none of the nasty preservatives and mould inhibitors we loathe so much. Processed food out the window. Even the birds won’t touch it. Ha Ha.

  3. Hi Kim
    No coincidence, is it? My skin continues to be fine but I’ve had a couple of items of bakery goods containing CP from my freezer this week, and have also had a nasty migraine. I might just bin the lot! I find that DS/Dietary Specials/Dr Schar goods, available in the Free From section at supermarkets, are generally free from Cp, though I still read every label. We are trying the Village Bakery rye bread, I am not sure if it’s good for me, but my partner loves it! I have noticed I can eat the pizzas at the local pub without a problem, they are made with Shiptons mill organic flour, which is a local product, stoneground in the traditional manner. I think artisan is the way to go.
    Thanks for getting in touch.

    • All this processed stuff is bad. I have been eating Artisan Bread recently, google Artisan bread company. No preservatives. They don’t last long but cut the bread and freeze when it arrives and you can’t go wrong. I love it, it’s really tasty. Just bread also has no preservatives but not easy to get hold of. 😉

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