More than 99% of soft drinks tested by the UK food safety watchdog have been found to contain benzoate and sorbate preservatives within the legal limits.

Testing conducted by the Food Standards Agency (FSA) found only one drink containing benzoates at levels higher than the legal maximum, the FSA has said.

Benzoates, and particularly sodium benzoate, have been at the centre of several controversies over additives in soft drinks in the last three years.

Sodium benzoate was revealed to contribute to the formation of small amounts of benzene, a potentially harmful chemical, under certain conditions in some drinks. Industry bodies produced guidelines to help companies' minimise benzene formation, although health authorities in the UK and US assured that there was no risk to consumers' health.

Food and drink firms in the UK have also been under pressure to remove artificial additives, following research linking several additives, including sodium benzoate, to behavioural problems in children.

Soft drinks firms say that sodium benzoate, which has been approved by the EU, is essential for its ability to kill harmful bacteria in drinks - an argument backed up by the UK FSA in its most recent benzoates study. Industry adds that levels remain within limits set by regulators.

Coca-Cola GB removed sodium benzoate from its packaged Diet Coke and Coke Zero products earlier this year.

A company spokesperson told just-drinks this week that the additive was still used in other drinks, including Fanta, Oasis and Sprite. "We will continue to use Sodium Benzoate in our products to ensure safety and quality," the group said.