Monday, January 30, 2006

Nitrates and Nitrites In Meat

A total of 78 alerts about contaminated foods were issued in the EU during the second week of January/2006. Of particular concern for some officials were the reports to the Commission from Norway that its regulator had found unauthorised nitrites in smoked or cured salmon and trout produced by its fish processors.

"Eight processors were caught using nitrites to make their fish look fresher. Norway's Consumer Council claims that the producers have damaged the country's reputation by using the additive and has asked the Norwegian Food Safety Authority to file criminal charges against the fish producers."

Nitrates are naturally occurring chemicals that are created by the breakdown of gaseous nitrogen (the most abundant ingredient in air) through the photosynthesis of plants. Nitrites are smaller molecules that are created as a result of the breakdown of nitrates.

Historically, nitrates served two purposes: to help prevent the growth of certain bacteria that can cause an outbreak of botulism, a deadly food-borne illness, and to give cured meat a pink color. These nitrates, once added to the meat, would break down over a period of time, forming nitrites. Eventually, nitrites themselves were added directly to the meat to speed up the curing process.

Because of the toxicity of nitrite (lethal dose of nitrite for humans is about 22 mg per kg body weight), the maximum allowed nitrite concentration in meat products is 200 ppm. Under certain conditions, especially during cooking, nitrites in meat can react with degradation products of amino acids, forming nitrosamines, which are known carcinogens.

Nitrites can contribute to the formation of potentially dangerous carcinogens in the body, which in turn can result in malignant tumor growth over time. Children are especially susceptible to nitrite poisoning.

One clinical study conducted at the University of Hawaii revealed a 67% increased risk of pancreatic cancer in people who consume large quantities of hot dogs, sausage and other processed meats, versus those who consume little or no processed meat. The study was led by Dr. Ute Nothlings and was announced at an annual gathering of the American Association for Cancer Research.

Although the study did not specifically name sodium nitrite as the cause of the heightened cancer risk, according to Mike Adams, nutritionist and author of "Grocery Warning," the huge spike in toxicity and cancer risk can only be explained by something added during meat processing.

"If sodium nitrite is so dangerous, why do food producers continue using it? The chemical is added primarily as a color fixer that turns meats a reddish, fresh-looking color that appeals to consumers. Packaged meats like hot dogs would normally appear a putrid gray, but with enough sodium nitrite added, the meats can seem visually fresh even if they've been on the shelves for months."

In a previous article here at BLV Health Watch -- Carbon Monoxide in USA Packaged Meats -- we revealed a similar process used by some USA meat packaging plants that keeps meat appearing "fresh" on grocery shelves which, in 2003, the EU prohibited the use of carbon monoxide for meat and tuna products.

You might think we were vegetarians, but for the record ...we are not.

- Wikipedia - Nitrite
- Nitrates/Nitrites Facts from duBreton Farms
- News Target ...processed meats hike cancer risk...
- Milk and salmon contamination feature in food safety alerts