What is Tertiary Butyl Hydroquinone (E319) in food? Uses, Safety, Side Effects

What is Tertiary Butyl Hydroquinone (E319) in food? Uses, Safety, Side Effects


Table of Contents

Tertiary butyl hydroquinone (TBHQ) is an additive commonly added to foods, cosmetics, and even medications. This oil-soluble organic compound is derived from either petroleum or natural gas, and is in a family of chemical compounds called alkyl benzoates. TBHQ can be found in all sorts of products, but is most commonly utilized as a preservative to help prolong the shelf life and maintain the freshness of processed food.

What is tertiary butyl fydroquinone?


Tertiary butyl hydroquinone (TBHQ) is an organic chemical preservative used in foods and cosmetics. It is a by-product of the petroleum industry.

TBHQ is added to foods to prevent them from becoming rancid and to extend shelf life. It is also found in perfumes, lipstick, and other cosmetics.

TBHQ may cause mild allergic reactions in some people, with symptoms including hives, swelling of the face and tongue, difficulty breathing and vomiting. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has determined that TBHQ exhibits no evidence of genotoxicity or carcinogenicity in animals, but there are no adequate studies on humans.

How is tertiary butyl hydroquinone made?

Tertiary butyl hydroquinone (TBHQ) is a food additive that is used as a preservative in foods such as vegetable oils, nuts, cereals and meats. It is also used in cosmetics, perfumes and pharmaceuticals.

Manufacturers of TBHQ produce it by reacting tertiary butanol with hydroquinone under high pressure and heat. The process occurs in a reactor at 170-190 °C for several hours.

Here is a brief reaction equation:



Appearance White or tan powder with a light characteristic odour.
Other names Tert-butylhydroquinone, tert-butyl-1,4-benzenediol
CAS number 1948-33-0
Chemical formula C10H14O2
Molecular weight 166.220
Stability With high thermal stability, no discoloration in the presence of metal ions (e.g. iron, copper).
Solubility practically insoluble in water, easy to dissolve in oils & fats and organic solvents

What’s the uses of tertiary butyl hydroquinone?

Tertiary butyl hydroquinone (TBHQ) is a food additive that acts as an antioxidant. It prevents fats and oils from going rancid and turning brown. TBHQ can be found in foods like potato chips, microwave popcorn, crackers, cereal, candy bars and other snack foods.

TBHQ has been approved by the FDA since 1958. It is considered to be safe for use in small amounts. However, some research studies have suggested that TBHQ could be harmful when consumed in large quantities over a long period of time.

Here are some TBHQ:

  • Food preservative: TBHQ is added to foods to prevent them from spoiling quickly and looking bad after they are opened or cooked. It preserves food’s color and flavor so that it doesn’t have to be thrown away when it goes stale or looks bad after being cooked in an oven or microwave oven.
  • Food antioxidant: TBHQ acts as an antioxidant in foods such as potato chips, crackers and cereals to prevent them from turning brown when exposed to air or heat during processing or packaging.
  • Food coloring agent: TBHQ can be used as a color additive in foods such as cheese, butter, and fish sticks. The European Union has approved TBHQ for use in coloring foods since 1989. However, it’s banned for use in coloring foods in the United States and Canada because of potential toxicity concerns.

TBHQ may be used to preserve vegetable oils and animal fats in the following processed foods:

  • Fried foods: chicken nuggets, potato chips and McDonald’s Mighty Wings
  • Nuts
  • Candy
  • Crackers
  • Butter
  • Chocolate
  • Instant noodles, ramen noodles
  • Microwave popcorn

Vegetable oils

In vegetable oil refining, TBHQ is used as a preservative to prevent oxidation, rancidity and spoilage. Vegetable oils are very sensitive to air and light exposure, which can lead to formation of off-flavors and odors. TBHQ is added to prevent this from happening. In addition, it acts as an antioxidant by reacting with free radicals produced in the oil.

Animal fats

Animal fats are used to make foods such as margarine, shortening and lard. Tertiary butyl hydroquinone also prevents oxidation during processing and storage of these products.

How does tertiary butyl hydroquinone work?

Foods that are high in fats and oils are often spoilt during processing, storage, and transportation. After oils & fats are exposed to light, oxygen, metal ions, and bacteria, free radicals are generated.

After several reactions, unsaturated fatty acids convert to hydroxides and secondary oxidation products, which can cause changes in the physical and chemical properties of oils and fats (e.g. color, flavor, smell and nutritional value), and finally shorten the shelf life and make them deteriorate.

The mechanism of oxidation is generally as follows:


Hydrogen free radicals produced by TBHQ terminate the above free radical chain transfer reaction between unsaturated fatty acids. The mechanism by which TBHQ acts as an antioxidant is as follows.


Is tertiary butyl Hydroquinone safe?

Although high doses of this additive may cause stomach tumors, its safety has been established by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), and Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA).


Tertiary butyl hydroquinone (TBHQ) is a common food additive that is used as an antioxidant. It is approved for use in the EU as a food additive within maximum limits of 0.02% in fats and oils, 0.3% in snacks, 1% in dressings, 2% in confectionery, 5% in non-alcoholic beverages and 10% in meat products. TBHQ is also approved for use as a preservative at levels up to 0.02% in non-alcoholic beverages, fruit juices and vegetable oils.


Regulation (EU) No 231/2012 classifies tertiary-butylhydroquinone (E319) as an authorised food additive and categorized as “additional ingredients other than colours and sweeteners”.

The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has determined that TBHQ is safe at levels up to 0.02% of the total fat content in foods intended for infants under 12 months old.

Safety re-evaluation

As a result of its safety evaluation in 2004, the EFSA concluded that TBHQ was not carcinogenic.

Based on a 1998 JECFA guidelines, an ADI (acceptable daily intake) of 0.7 mg/kg body weight (bw) has been established for 2004.

Approved uses

In its application, it is listed along with BHA and propyl gallate, with a maximum level of “25-400mg/kg”. There are a number of uses for it, including:

  • Milk powder for vending machines
  • Fats, oils for heat-treated foods
  • Frying oil and frying fat (excluding olive pomace oil) and lard, fish oil, beef, poultry, sheep fat
  • Processed nuts
  • Dehydrated products: potatoes, meat, soups & broths
  • Chewing gum
  • Cake mixes
  • Seasonings and condiments, sauces
  • Precooked cereals, cereal-based snack foods
  • The solid or liquid forms of food supplements are not suitable for infants or young children.

UK Food Standards Agency

It is categorized as an antioxidant

Food Standards Australia New Zealand

Australian and New Zealand have approved it as an ingredient. It is code number 319 in these countries.


Function Class: food additives and antioxidants.

Acceptable daily intake: In 1997, the ADI was set at “0-0.7 mg/kg bw”.

What is tertiary butyl Hydroquinone in food?

Tertiary butyl hydroquinone (TBHQ) is an antioxidant that has been used as a food additive since the early 1950s. It is used in foods for its antioxidant properties, which are thought to help prevent fat from going rancid.

TBHQ has been linked to many negative health effects, including cancer and neurodegenerative disorders. The FDA does not allow TBHQ to exceed 0.02% of food products, yet some include up to 0.5%.

Tertiary Butyl Hydroquinone in Food

The following foods contain TBHQ:

  • Canned Foods – To preserve freshness and prevent oxidation of oil in canned foods, TBHQ can be added at levels of 0.02-0.5%. Examples include canned fruits and vegetables, potato chips, corn chips and other snack foods.
  • Fried Foods – Fast food restaurants use TBHQ in their fried foods like French fries because it helps prevent oxidation of the oil used for frying these items.
  • Margarine – Some margarines also contain TBHQ in order to help maintain freshness while preventing rancidity of fats in butter substitutes like margarine or shortening used for baking purposes or spreading on toast or bread products such as bagels or English muffins.

What are the Side Effects of tertiary butyl hydroquinone?


Tertiary Butyl Hydroquinone Side Effects

  • Skin irritation and redness. This is the most common side effect and it can result from using too much of the product or using it incorrectly. This may also be caused by other factors such as exposure to sunlight and other elements that cause skin irritation. The best way to avoid this is to use the product at night and apply a sunscreen during the day. If you still have irritation then stop using the product immediately.
  • Allergic reactions. People with allergies may experience hives, swelling or difficulty breathing if they eat foods containing TBHQ.
  • Seizures. Some people have reported having seizures after consuming products that contain TBHQ, although this has not been confirmed by research studies or clinical trials.
  • Nausea. If you have eaten too much of a food containing this preservative, you may experience nausea or vomiting.

Irritation of the eyes, nose or throat can occur if Tertiary Butyl Hydroquinone gets in contact with these areas when applying it on your face. To avoid this, always wash your hands thoroughly before applying any type of cosmetic product on your face, be aware not to touch your eyes while applying any cosmetic product on your face and do not apply any type of cosmetic product on areas near your eyes such as eyebrows, eyelids, nose and lips etc…

What percent of hydroquinone is effective?

There are many different percentages of hydroquinone available for purchase. The higher the percentage, the more effective it will be, but there are some drawbacks to this.

It is important to note that hydroquinone is a skin bleaching agent and should only be used on areas of your body where you have hyperpigmentation or dark spots (i.e., sun damage). You should never use hydroquinone on your face as it can cause serious side effects.

If you do wish to use hydroquinone, there are several different options available: 2%, 4%, 5% and 10%. The higher the percentage, the more effective it will be at lightening your skin tone. However, keep in mind that even if you choose a lower percentage than recommended by your dermatologist or pharmacist you may still see results with their guidance and monitoring.

Where to buy tertiary butyl hydroquinone?

The best place to buy tertiary butyl hydroquinone is at your local grocery store or online retailer like Amazon or Walmart. You may also be able to find TBHQ at some specialty restaurants or if you live near an Asian market then you may want to check there too as they sometimes carry this product as well!

Frequently Asked Questions

Is tertiary butyl hydroquinone halal?

Yes, tertiary butyl hydroquinone is halal. Tertiary butyl hydroquinone is a chemical used as a preservative in cosmetics and personal care products. It is halal because it is derived from natural ingredients.

Is tertiary butyl hydroquinone gluten free?

Tertiary butyl hydroquinone is a chemical that is used as a stabilizer and an antioxidant in foods. It is also found in personal care products, like hair dyes and shampoo.

According to the Celiac Disease Foundation, tertiary butyl hydroquinone is not derived from wheat or gluten and it therefore does not contain any gluten proteins.

Tertiary Butyl Hydroquinone VS Butylated Hydroxyanisole VS Butylated Hydroxytoluene

Tertiary butyl hydroquinone (TBHQ), butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA) and butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT) are three compounds that are used to preserve foods and prevent fats from going rancid. All three antioxidants are made by reacting an alcohol with a hydrocarbon. All three have been labeled as safe by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, but there are differences between them.

TBHQ is a petroleum-derived additive that prevents oxidation of fats and oils in foods, according to the FDA’s website. It’s also found in personal care products such as makeup, lotions, shampoo and conditioner, where it helps keep those products from going bad or spoiling prematurely. Many experts believe it has potential health risks when consumed in large doses over an extended period of time.

BHA is derived from plants or vegetable oils, so it doesn’t contain any animal fats or cholesterol like TBHQ does. BHA is more stable than TBHQ and doesn’t evaporate like TBHQ does when exposed to high temperatures or cooking methods such as frying or baking at high heat levels for long periods of time.

Butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT) also functions as an antioxidant by preventing fats from becoming rancid during storage. BHT is used in many foods and household products including vitamin capsules and shampoos.

Is tertiary butyl hydroquinone vegan?

Yes, tertiary butyl hydroquinone is vegan. Tertiary butyl hydroquinone is a chemical used in the production of cosmetics, personal care products, and other household items. It’s often used to prevent aging and discoloration in things like lipstick and nail polish.


The purpose of tertiary butyl hydroquinone is to delay the oxidation of fats and oils. That way, you can keep foods like potato chips and french fries from turning rancid before you’re finished eating them. Tertiary butylhydroquinone also prevents nuts, cereals, breads, and other products from becoming rancid over time. 

Certain foods already contain butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA), which is a form of tertiary butylhydroquinone naturally produced by the body. However, this compound lasts much longer inside the body than natural BHA, and until more studies have been conducted on its potential side effects in humans, it’s best to limit its consumption when possible.

Sophie Feng

Sophie Feng

Sophie Feng is the author of gradechemical.com, she is the co-founder of the grade chemical network. She has been in grade chemical company since 2017, with a working knowledge of food chemical .

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