Sodium benzoate and potassium sorbate are extremely useful agents for food and beverage preservation, yet concerns remain over their complete safety. Benzoate can react with the ascorbic acid in drinks to produce the carcinogen benzene. A few children develop allergy to this additive while, as a competitive inhibitor of D-amino acid oxidase, benzoate can also influence neurotransmission and cognitive functioning. Model organism and cell culture studies have raised some issues. Benzoate has been found to exert teratogenic and neurotoxic effects on zebrafish embryos. In addition, benzoate and sorbate are reported to cause chromosome aberrations in cultured human lymphocytes; also to be potently mutagenic toward the mitochondrial DNA in aerobic yeast cells. Whether the substantial human consumption of these compounds could significantly increase levels of such damages in man is still unclear. There is no firm evidence that it is a risk factor in type 2 diabetes. The clinical administration of sodium benzoate is of proven benefit for many patients with urea cycle disorders, while recent studies indicate it may also be advantageous in the treatment of multiple sclerosis, schizophrenia, early-stage Alzheimer's disease and Parkinson's disease. Nevertheless, exposure to high amounts of this agent should be approached with caution, especially since it has the potential to generate a shortage of glycine which, in turn, can negatively influence brain neurochemistry. We discuss here how a small fraction of the population might be rendered-either through their genes or a chronic medical condition-particularly susceptible to any adverse effects of sodium benzoate.