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British Food Journal Volume 44 Issue 11 1942

British Food Journal

ISSN: 0007-070X

Article publication date: 1 November 1942


The question whether grape juice may or may not be preserved with sulphur dioxide is one which arises occasionally as a result of a certain ambiguity in the wording of the First Schedule of the Regulations. It is not a matter of opinion, as some would hold, but a matter of law, and, as such, should be fully appreciated by the legal advisers of local authorities, if not by Public Analysts. Item 4 of the First Schedule of the Regulations states that “Unfermented grape juice and non‐alcoholic wine made from such grape juice if labelled in accordance with the rule contained in the Second Schedule to these Regulations” may contain 2,000 parts of benzoic acid per million of grape juice and does not admit of the presence of the addition of any sulphur dioxide. The Second Schedule prescribes that, if the proportion of benzoic acid present in grape juice exceeds 600 parts per million, it shall be labelled with a declaration to that effect and also with the words “and is not intended for use as a beverage.” Item 5 of the First Schedule of the Regulations states that “Other non‐alcoholic wines, cordials and fruit juices, sweetened or unsweetened” may contain either 350 parts of sulphur dioxide per million parts of preparation or 600 parts per million of benzoic acid. Normally one would infer from this that grape juice to be used as a beverage falls under Item 5 of the Regulations, but that, if for some special reason it is not to be so used, it is permitted to contain up to 2,000 parts per million of benzoic acid provided that it is labelled to the effect that it is not to be used as a beverage. It should be noted that Item 4 does not read that grape juice and non‐alcoholic wine made from it may contain 600 parts per million of benzoic acid, but that, if labelled in accordance with the rules contained in the Second Schedule, it may contain 2,000 parts of this preservative. If grape juice were only allowed to contain benzoic acid as a preservative and if sulphur dioxide were prohibited under all circumstances one would have thought that Item 4 of the First Schedule would have been drawn up to indicate this, but no such indication is given at all. At the time that the Preservatives Regulations were issued it was fully recognised that sulphur dioxide was employed as a preservative in grape must. Whilst the Departmental Committee was considering the matter of preservatives and colouring matters the Ministry of Health issued a Report on Public Health Subjects, No. 24, entitled “Report on the Composition of Commoner British Wines and Cordials (Alcoholic and Non‐alcoholic),” by Dr. G. C. Hancock, C.B.E., one of the Medical Officers of the Ministry, together with a Report by the Government Chemist on the Examination of Samples. In the introduction Dr. G. Newman, the Chief Medical Officer to the Minister of Health, writes : “The most important of these materials are preservatives, and Dr. Hancock mentions the considerations which underlie the use of these substances in the manufacture of British wines and cordials. As, however, the question of preservatives and colouring matters in foods is being considered by a Departmental Committee of the Ministry he has made no specific recommendations relating to the use of these substances.” On page 4 at the end of the sixth paragraph Dr. Hancock refers to grape juice or must and says : “It is sent here in a highly concentrated form and is usually ‘sulphured,’ i.e., treated with sulphur dioxide in order to inhibit fermentation during transit.” Among other information placed at the disposal of the Departmental Committee was Dr. Hancock's report and in the Final Report of the Committee, also issued in 1924, paragraph 57 states: “Sulphurous acid and sulphites are extensively used in beer and alcoholic wines, to some smaller extent in non‐alcoholic beverages, and in preserving fruits and fruit juices, dried fruits, gelatine and sausages. … In the case of beer, wines, fruit and fruit juices the introduction comes partly from the treatment of the vessels of preparation and storage, partly from the materials used and partly from the actual addition of preservative in the course of manufacture or treatment for storage.” When considering the question of alcoholic wines, Foreign and British in detail, the Committee stated their opinion in the following words (para. 144): “Foreign and British wines are by no means closely related products. The former are the naturally fermented produce of the grape, while the latter are rarely derived from fresh fruit and are far more commonly prepared from a basis of dried fruits, rhubarb or imported grape must, fermented after the addition of sugar and flavouring materials, such as dried ginger‐root, orange peel, alcoholic essences or foreign wines. Considered from the point of view of preservatives, however, they have two features in common, (a) that the alcoholic content is very similar in each, (b) that sulphur dioxide is the preservative which is usually favoured (in addition to the alcohol present) to prevent secondary and other undesirable fermentations and sourness.” Instead of making any suggestion that the use of sulphur dioxide should be prohibited in grape must, the Committee draw their conclusion in paragraph 147 in the following words : “Our conclusion is that while in general preservatives should be unnecessary in alcoholic wines of ordinary strength, there may be circumstances which render the entire elimination of preservatives impracticable for the present. We think, however, that no other preservatives than sulphur dioxide should be permitted, and that this substance should not be present in amounts exceeding 3 grains of sulphur dioxide free and combined per pint (343 milligrams per litre).” This recommendation was adopted in the Draft Statutory Order issued in February, 1925, but, when the final Order was published, the quantity of sulphur dioxide permitted had been increased to 450 parts per million, making the law in this country agree with that already adopted in France. The recommendation made by the Departmental Committee was put forward after the Committee had commented on the fact that British wines are largely prepared from “imported grape must.” It seems remarkable that the Committee should have expressed the opinion that sulphur dioxide is used for sulphuring the casks, that sulphur dioxide is permitted in the completed wine, if it is not allowed to be present at intermediate stages, and that a Regulation was made by which benzoic acid only could be present in the unfermented grape juice, if this is not permitted to be present in the fermented alcoholic wine. When benzoic acid has once been added it cannot be eliminated and, as recognised by the Departmental Committee, benzoic acid is undesirable from the fermentation aspect. Had there been any intention to prohibit the presence of sulphur dioxide in unfermented grape juice, the Regulations would have rung the death‐knell to the manufacture of British wines, which have been produced in increasing volume during the last twenty years. Further, if there had been any intention to prohibit the addition of sulphur dioxide to grape juice, one cannot but express surprise that the importation of such juice has not been suppressed long ago by the Customs Authorities, since Section 8 (1) of the Regulations lays the responsibility for the control of Imported Articles of Food on the Officers of Customs and Excise and, through them, on the Government Chemist. The failure of the Government Chemist to condemn grape must containing sulphur dioxide cannot be due to his ignorance of its presence because the chemical analyses for Dr. Hancock's Report were carried out by the Government Chemist, and on page 58 of the Report No. 24, to which reference has already been made, analyses are given of two French musts containing 360 and 302 parts of sulphur dioxide per million respectively and of an American concentrated must containing 63 parts of sulphur dioxide per million. If we now look at paragraph 153 of the Final Report of the Departmental Committee we find that the matter of preservatives in certain non‐alcoholic beverages is dealt with in the following words: “We consider that sweetened and unsweetened fruit juices, syrups, cordials, non‐alcoholic wines and articles of similar composition such as certain well‐known proprietary cordials, are peculiarly liable to develop moulds and to ferment, owing to liability to exposure on the consumer's premises between the first opening and final consumption, and we think that on this account they may under present trade conditions need the addition of a small proportion of preservative. We therefore suggest that the presence either of benzoic acid up to 5 grains or of sulphur dioxide up to 3 grains per pint might be considered.” These recommendations were adopted in the Draft Rule and Order, issued in February, 1925, and there was no reference in this Draft indicating that grape juice was to be treated in any manner distinct from other fruit juices. The introduction of Item 4 in S.R. & O. 1925, 775, came as a complete surprise to everyone and the general surprise felt was mentioned by Mr. C. A. Mitchell (now Dr. Mitchell) in a paper read before the Medico‐Legal Society on Tuesday, April 20th, 1926, with the Rt. Hon. Lord Justice Aitken in the chair. Mr. Mitchell made the following statement: “The fourth item in the Schedule is one at which one can only stare and wonder how it ever came there. According to this regulation unfermented grape juice and non‐alcoholic wine made from it, may contain the enormous quantity of 17 grains of benzoic acid per pint, provided that it is labelled in accordance with Schedule II. I am fairly familiar with the cases which have been brought into Court during the last 20 years, but I cannot recall an instance of a non‐alcoholic wine (labelled or unlabelled) containing an amount of preservative equivalent to this quantity of benzoic acid.” Mr. Mitchell then proceeds to explain that the most probable reason for the introduction of this item into the rule is that it is intended to apply to non‐alcoholic sacramental wine, which is not to be used as a beverage, but which is taken a little at a time and is expected to keep for long periods, when the bottle has once been opened. This is, in fact, the position so far as I am aware and there was never any intention of any restriction on the use of sulphur dioxide in the ordinary way as a preservative in unfermented grape juice so long as the amount present did not exceed 350 parts per million.


(1942), "British Food Journal Volume 44 Issue 11 1942", British Food Journal, Vol. 44 No. 11, pp. 101-110.




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