Natamycin: What you should know about the preservative in cheese rind

natamycin
Photo: CC0 / Pixabay / jhenning

Natamycin is a preservative that also has antibiotic properties. Find out how it affects human health and how you can avoid it here.

Natamycin is found in particular in the rind of cheese and acts as a preservative to prevent it from becoming moldy. In Germany, you can find the substance under the E number E 235.

At the same time, however, natamycin is also used as a medicinal agent and has an antibiotic effect. In order to avoid antibiotic resistance, the Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) therefore recommends using the preservative as sparingly as possible.

Natamycin: food additive and antibiotic

Cheese rind is intended to protect the cheese underneath from drying out and mold. To guarantee this, some manufacturers treat the rind with natamycin. The use of the preservative is strictly regulated in the EU by EFSA requirements. Companies are not allowed to use more than one milligram of natamycin per square decimeter of surface. In addition, the substance may only penetrate a maximum of five millimeters into the interior of the product.

Natamycin is approved for hard cheese as well as for sliced ​​cheese and semi-hard cheese. The preservative is also used for dried and cured sausages, according to the BfR.

According to the BfR, all food additives that are also considered medicinal substances should be used extremely sparingly. This also applies to natamycin. Consumption of the substance can affect the intestinal flora and trigger resistance. The BfR therefore recommends removing the cheese rind to a depth of five millimeters – even if the rind is actually edible.

How much natamycin is in cheese?

Natamycin is not only a preservative but also an antibiotic used in human medicine.
Natamycin is not only a preservative but also an antibiotic used in human medicine.
(Photo: CC0 / Pixabay / PublicDomainPictures)

In 2022, the Lower Saxony State Office for Consumer Protection and Food Safety (Laves) examined 90 samples of hard and semi-hard cheese for their natamycin content. The result: 70 percent contained no natamycin at all in the rind. In the remaining samples, the content did not exceed the prescribed maximum value. The preservative could no longer be detected even below five millimeters.

However, four samples were missing a label indicating that the product contained natamycin. Manufacturers are required to list the preservative on the printed ingredients list of packaged products. For foods sold loose, a label on the product must indicate that natamycin is contained.

How to avoid the preservative

Would you prefer to avoid natamycin altogether? Then the following tips can help you:

  • According to the consumer advice center, the preservative is generally not permitted for organic products. So if you pay attention to organic quality when buying, you can automatically avoid natamycin.
  • Natamycin must always be listed as an ingredient. On the ingredients list or (for products sold loose) on the corresponding label you will find either the designation “Preservative E 235” or “Preservative Natamycin”.
  • Even if natamycin was only used for the (inedible) plastic coating of a cheese product, manufacturers must list the preservative as an ingredient, according to the consumer advice center. This is because it can easily happen that small amounts of natamycin pass from the plastic to the cheese. In this case, too, you are on the safe side if you check the ingredients list when shopping.

Read more on Techzle\.com:

  • Sorbic acid (E200): What you need to know about the additive
  • Sodium acetate: What E 262 does in food
  • Phosphoric acid (E338): What you need to know about the additive

Recent Articles

Related Stories