One of the most misleading ingredients added to “Natural” & Organic Deli Meats such as ham and bacon are the addition of celery extracts. Although celery extracts are naturally derived from celery, the finished product in the form of powders or concentrated juices are actually biochemically identical to sodium nitrite. Just like sodium nitrite, they are added as a preservative and to enhance the colour of meat.
Nitrites are found naturally in sea salt and in many vegetables like spinach, beets and celery. But unlike ingesting small amounts of nitrites that occur in vegetables, celery extracts are created in a lab where a concentrated version of the plant’s juice is combined with bacterial cultures. Nitrites consumed in their natural form when eating a stick of celery are not harmful. It’s when they are combined with meat and heat, in particular Heme iron found in red meat that they become harmful.
When nitrites or nitrates are added to meat for preservation it increases exposure to nitrosamines, N-nitroso compounds which are proven to be carcinogenic in humans.
As stated in this New York Times article “We see a 4 percent increase in the risk of cancer even at 15 grams a day, which is a single slice of ham on a sandwich,” said Dr. Nigel Brockton, director of research for the American Institute for Cancer Research. Eating a more typical serving of 50 grams of processed meat a day would increase the risk of colorectal cancer by 18 percent, a 2011 review of studies found.”
What do “Natural” and “Organic” claims really mean?
Shopping for quality healthy foods can be difficult especially when looking for prepared or processed food options that have multiple ingredients. But it’s even more difficult when the customer has to decipher how to interpret claims on product packaging. The word “Natural” is a marketing term used by companies based on their own definition of what “Natural” is; therefore, anyone can use the word “Natural” on their products. It literally means nothing, or is a matter of interpretation of what the company thinks is “Natural”.
In Canada, “Organic” is governed by standards and regulations that are overseen by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA). Being certified organic has a defined set of rules; using the term “Natural”, does not. However, it is important to know that the CFIA allows celery extracts to be used in organic processed meat products like ham and bacon. Therefore, you are better off to look for specific statements that make sense for the product you are buying like “Raised without Antibiotics” or “No Preservatives”, “No Nitrites” and “No Celery Extracts”, because companies that use specific claims must be able to legally support the claim. In other words, preservatives and additives are regulated, but the term “Natural” is not.
A company can use the word “Natural” in their marketing but still put additives and preservatives in the food.
The best way to avoid confusing claims is to read the actual ingredients. If you see an ingredient and you don’t know what it is, or why it’s been added to your food, Google it!
Did you ever wonder why McLean Meats calls their bacon, Pork Breakfast Strips? The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) defines bacon as “pork cured with nitrites”. Since we don’t add nitrites or celery extracts, we cannot call our bacon, bacon.
Below is the definition of “Cured” from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA). This is the agency that regulates labeling of packaged food in Canada. “Cured” (MIR) means, in respect of an edible meat product, that salt together with at least 100 ppm of sodium nitrite, potassium nitrite, sodium nitrate or potassium nitrate, or any combination thereof, was added to the meat product during its preparation. Cultured celery powder (or other cultured vegetable juice powders approved for this purpose) may be used as an alternative source of nitrites in the production of cured or fermented meat products. Cultured celery powder contains preformed nitrites produced by bacterial action on nitrates present in the celery product”.