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Sodium Nitrite Essential and Safe in Processed Meat

18 November 2011

US - A new American Meat Science Association (AMSA) white paper examining sodium nitrite in processed meats concludes that nitrite is essential to ensuring product safety, and that cured meats contribute a very small part of human nitrite intake and that emerging science has identified the many health benefits of nitrite.

AMSA members Jeff Sindelar, Ph.D., and Andrew Milkowski, Ph.D., of the University of Wisconsin coauthored the paper, “Sodium Nitrite in Processed Meat and Poultry Meats: A Review of Curing and Examining the Risk or Benefit of Its Use.”

AMSA commissioned the report to bring clarity to the discussion currently taking place within the meat industry and with policymakers and consumers concerning the use of sodium nitrite in processed meat and poultry products.

Curing with nitrite has been used, essentially, for thousands of years to produce safe and nutritious products and to effectively preserve meat.

Since some concerns were raised about nitrite safety in the early 1970s, much has been learned about nitrite and processing, and curing methods have changed to reflect the new understanding.

Perhaps most importantly, either sodium ascorbate (vitamin C) or sodium erythorbate (a form of vitamin C), is now routinely added to prevent the formation of nitrosamines when cured products are heated to extremely high temperatures.

The paper also details ongoing research focused on the metabolism of nitric oxide, nitrite, and nitrate appears to reaffirm the safety and benefits of current curing practices.

Milkowski and Sindelar detail the humane nitrogen cycle, in which nitrate is converted to nitrite which is converted to nitrite oxide.

“Nitric oxide is a profoundly active molecule, being involved in control of smooth muscle relaxation, neurotransmission, wound healing, immune response and a host of other biological functions,” the authors write.

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