Nitrites: A measure of safety

May 13, 2016

Consumers are often apprehensive to consume processed meats because of the nitrite levels in the product. In fact, nitrites are added to processed meats as a safety measure to prevent botulism, a deadly disease that is caused by the growth of Clostridium botulinum. Nitrites play an important role in the safety of processed meats. They are often given a bad reputation because they are added to the products, but the level of nitrites in processed meats is considerably lower than nitrate levels in vegetables and saliva.

Jeff Sindelar, Ph.D., University of Wisconsin state that, “About five percent of the nitrite you consume comes from cured meats whereas the rest of it comes from other sources such as your vegetables and saliva.” Celery contains naturally occurring nitrates at a level of 0.3% nitrite and hotdogs has closer to 0.003%, only a fraction of those found in vegetables. Sindelar went on to point out,  “Where you receive it (nitrite) actually makes no difference because nitrite is nitrite. In other words, the nitrite derived from celery or other vegetables is exactly the same as the nitrite found in cured meats.” Products that are naturally cured also contain nitrites, as the natural curing agents are often from vegetable sources like celery powder.


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