What the heck is calcium chloride and why is it in my food?

That’s the question I wanted to ask the Trader Joe’s customer service person today. But, being a polite, well-mannered sort of person, I instead asked “Do you know what calcium chloride is?”

The friendly guy, who’s name tag indicated he’s the First Mate, which is cute in a taking-the-metaphor-a-little-too-far kind of way, replied that it’s a chemical used on icy roads and in concrete. Which, quite frankly, didn’t make me feel too comfortable about purchasing the can of tomatoes I was holding that had calcium chloride in the ingredients.

So I said to First Mate, “Oh, well, I was just asking because it’s in these tomatoes.” At which point he looked as baffled as me then kindly offered to call and find out.

The official Trader Joe’s response was that calcium chloride is a kind of salt used as a preservative and to add calcium to the food.

I didn’t buy the tomatoes (it’s also in TJ’s 50% less sugar fruit preserves) because I wanted to look into it a little more.

It turns out that calcium chloride is indeed a type of salt. According to the CODEX General Standard for Food Additives (GSFA), it’s official use is as a stabilizer, firming agent, and thickener. Calcium chloride is generally recognized as safe (GRAS) by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (which never sounds like resoundingly confident endorsement). Wikiedia points out that it’s an electrolyte and is used in some sports drinks. In addition to preserving canned vegetables,  it’s often used to make pickles.

Bottom line: The FDA considers it safe and it has many approved and acceptable uses but I don’t think canned tomatoes and fruit preserves fall into that category.  I’ll stick to my regular calcium chloride-free brands.

4 comments for “What the heck is calcium chloride and why is it in my food?

  1. Amy
    May 19, 2011 at 12:47 am

    I’m having a really hard time finding a brand of tomatoes without calcium-chloride – can you suggest one? A few years back my sister and I actually canned tomatoes from her garden. They were heaven. And no calcium-chloride was required :)

  2. cat
    June 1, 2011 at 11:14 pm

    Amy, home canned tomatoes sound really delicious! I wish I had the time and energy to do it!

    I saw several brands in Whole Foods without calcium chloride including Jersey Fresh brand and Cento, which is also sold in conventional grocery stores. The brands without calcium chloride were all at the expensive end of the tomato spectrum, in fact, none of the most expensive tomatoes had it and all of the least expensive ones did. I hope this helps.

  3. September 8, 2011 at 8:43 am

    I have IBS, and I find it very hard to buy canned foods that don’t affect me . Had mixed veggies ,no salt added , but it had calcium chloide, thought I was going to have to go to the hospital, please is there anything in cans I can eat.

  4. April 27, 2012 at 8:14 am

    I don’t understand the paranoia involved with chemical names, like CaCl or Calcium Chloride. It’s a salt, totally harmless.
    If, instead of listing ‘water’ as an ingredient, and they listed “dihydrogen monoxide”, would you freak out and bad-mouth the FDA for not banning this substance? And then continue the nonsense by forwarding a warning to everyone in your contact list that this is a dangerous substance and because corporations only want to make profits, they won’t allow the real nature of dihydrogen monoxide to be revealed?
    This is sad.

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