Propionic acid (E280)

Methylacetic, propanoic or propionic acid is known as food additive E280. Its main property is preservative, as it is able to inhibit the development of mold microorganisms and bacteria. This substance is found in nature, and for industrial purposes it is synthesized artificially in laboratories.

The use of propionic acid is one of the most controversial facts in the food industry: on the one hand, there is information about a possible connection between its use with food and the appearance of cancerous tumors, on the other hand, manufacturers and the World Health Organization indicate that, subject to safety standards, E280 cannot cause harm to human health. In any case, to date, most states have not abandoned the use of methylacetic acid in food.

Properties of the E280 additive, the process of its production

Propanic acid belongs to the class saturated or volatile fatty acids. According to its chemical structure, it is a limiting monobasic carboxylic acid. Under normal conditions at room temperature, E280 is an oily, colorless liquid with a sharp unpleasant odor and a characteristic sour taste. The melting point of the additive is 21 degrees Celsius below zero, and at a positive temperature of 440 degrees Celsius, the acid ignites spontaneously. The substance is readily soluble in water and organic solvents. As a result of various chemical reactions, it can form amides, esters, and acid halides.

Additive E280 is known precisely for its preservative properties, therefore it is used for industrial purposes to extend the shelf life of products and inhibit the growth and development of pathogenic microorganisms.

The substance was first obtained as a decomposition product of sugar in 1844. At that time, no one bothered to study and develop it, so the “phenomenon” of propionic acid to the world community occurred three years later, in 1847. The French chemist Jean-Baptiste Dumas synthesized the substance, began studying its properties and gave it a name.

In its natural form, the substance is formed during the vital activity of Propionibacterium bacteria, which are found in the human stomach and the stomach of herbivorous ruminants. These bacteria take an active part in the digestive process.

Propionic acid can also be synthesized as a result of fermentation of carbohydrates and is one of the components of oil.

In some types of cheese, such as in Emmental, the presence of methylacetic acid is due to the natural fermentation of bacteria.

Today, for industrial use, food additive E280 is produced through the carbonylation of ethylene with water and nickel catalysts. The resulting propionaldehyde is subjected to oxidation and propionic acid is obtained.

There is another way to produce - in the process of synthesizing acetic acid, propionic acid is released as a by-product. However, this method of obtaining is not very popular recently.

Features of packaging and storage of propionic acid

One of the major manufacturers and suppliers of the additive is BASF, which offers a product called “Luprosil” on the world market. It contains 99.5% methylacetic acid. The substance is produced in canisters with a volume of 10 liters, barrels or containers of large volume. These packaging options are the most popular in the international market turnover of the food additive E280.

Regarding the storage of acid, since it is considered a combustible substance, the main requirement is that the substance should not be near open sources of fire.

Food and other industries: how the additive E280 is used

grain processing. In human food, it can only be used in the form of sodium or calcium salts, at a concentration of not more than 0.3%. However, its pronounced sour taste still does not allow increasing the concentration of acid without losing the original taste.

Food additive E280 can be found in animal feed, agricultural fertilizers, solvents, herbicides and various types of plastics, it is used to treat uncured hay and grain.

In the pharmaceutical industry, a substance is used as a preservative to extend the shelf life of certain drugs.

As a substance with pronounced antibacterial properties and fungicidal action, methylacetic acid can be a component of such products:

  • bakery products and pastries, Easter cakes;
  • cheeses and their analogues;
  • whey.

Effects on human health: harm or benefit

It is scientifically proven that in the amounts that are present in foods, propionic acid cannot significantly harm a person if you do not eat food with it in the composition constantly. The substance is easily oxidized in the body and excreted from it without accumulating in cells and tissues.


The danger of acid is that in large doses it causes burns of the esophageal mucosa. If even a small amount of acid gets on the skin, a chemical burn also occurs.

As a result of the study process, the E280 supplement did not reveal mutagenic or toxic properties, as well as effects on the reproductive system of the test subjects.

There is information about the oncogenicity of the substance, so people with a predisposition to cancer or with an established diagnosis should exclude food with this preservative from their diet. The additive does not have any useful properties for humans.

Despite the fact that methylacetic acid is marked as a substance with a very low level of danger to human health in international classifications, some countries, such as Ukraine, have banned its use in food manufacturing processes. In Canada, the USA, and the countries of the European Union, there is no such ban, therefore, in the territory of these states, you can purchase bakery products or cheeses, which will contain the E280 code.