The effects of the food preservatives sodium benzoate (SB), boric acid (BA), citric acid (CA), potassium citrate (PC) and sodium citrate (SC) have been studied on root tips of Allium cepa L. Roots of A. cepa were treated with a series of concentrations, ranging from 20 to 100 ppm, for 5, 10 and 20 h. The results indicate that these food preservatives reduced mitotic division in A. cepa compared with the respective control. Mitotic index values were generally decreased with increasing concentrations and longer treatment times. Additionally, variations in the percentage of mitotic stages were observed. The total percentage of aberrations generally increased with increasing concentrations of these chemicals and the longer period of treatment. Different abnormal mitotic figures were observed in all mitotic phases. Among these abnormalities were anaphase bridges, C-mitosis, micronuclei, lagging, stickiness, breaks and unequal distiribution. (c) 2006 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.