WASHINGTON — A scientific advisory committee, citing severe allergic reactions that may have killed four persons in restaurants last year, recommended Friday that the government restrict use of a chemical additive that makes vegetables appear fresher.
The panel, in its final report to the Food and Drug Administration, said the government should restrict or ban some uses of sulfiting agents, chemicals that are used by some restaurants and food processors to make fruits, vegetables and potato products look more appetizing.
"Discontinuance of these uses should be encouraged by appropriate use of the regulatory process," the committee said.
Sulfites are used as preservatives in beer and wine and in some baked goods and processed foods. But the main concern has been the use of sulfites to improve the appearance of fruits and vegetables. The increasing popularity of salad bars in recent years has prompted some restaurants to increase their use of sulfites, to keep lettuce from wilting and other salad ingredients looking fresh.
The advisory committee reversed a preliminary decision last fall to recommend only stronger labeling requirements to alert persons who know that they are sensitive to sulfites.
That tentative recommendation was criticized by many as inadequate and the panel's final report concluded: "Additional labeling requirements alone would not assure protection."
The FDA has reported four deaths in the last year that may have been caused by sulfiting agents, and it has said it is investigating 50 other severe reactions.