New technology like HPP (High-Pressure Processing) can be used to preserve deli meats instead of sodium nitrite but most companies are still using this additive. Sodium nitrite was first added to deli meat in the early 1900s when refrigeration was still rare. So why is this chemical still being used today?
The main reason is that sodium nitrite is a very effective preservative. It can kill bacteria and prevent the growth of mold and fungus. And unlike HPP, it is relatively inexpensive.
This makes it a popular additive in deli meats, which are often high in moisture and prone to spoilage. Sodium nitrite also gives deli meats a nice pink color and that distinctive salty tangy flavor that is beloved around the world.
While sodium nitrite is an effective preservative, it also has some drawbacks. The most serious concern is that it can form cancer-causing compounds called nitrosamines. These nitrosamines can be formed when sodium nitrite reacts with certain proteins in meat.
According to The World Cancer Research Fund International, research has shown that nitrosamines can cause cancer in the lining of your stomach and may also be linked to pancreatic, bladder, and other cancers.
Why are Nitrites Permitted for use in Foods like Deli Meats when they are Considered Carcinogenic?
The United States allows for a very small amount of nitrosamines to be present in food. The acceptable level is 100 parts per billion (ppb). This is because the nitrosamines that are formed from sodium nitrite are believed to be carcinogenic only in high doses. The levels of nitrosamines found in most deli meats are well below the 100-ppb limit. The Canadian government permits a slightly higher level of nitrosamines in food, but it is still well below the amount that is thought to be carcinogenic. Other studies disagree.
Is Sodium Nitrite Safe to Consume in Small Doses?
The jury is still out on this one. Some studies show that there is no risk associated with consuming nitrosamines in small doses, while other studies suggest that there may be a risk.
There is some evidence that suggests that even low levels of nitrosamines can be harmful. For example, a study published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine found that people who ate one serving of deli meat per week had a higher risk of developing pancreatic cancer. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that people eat no more than 50 grams of processed meat per day to reduce the risk of cancer. You would need to eat more than two and a half servings of deli meats per day to exceed the World Health Organizations limit.
Still, the study did not include any information on how much nitrosamine was present in those 50 grams of processed meat. So, it is difficult to say whether such a dose of nitrosamines could be harmful.
Groups like the Center for Science in Public Interest (CSPI) maintain that sodium nitrite poses a significant health risk and should be replaced with healthier alternatives like HPP (High-Pressure Processing).
To remove sodium nitrite from deli meats many companies replaced it with cultured celery extracts. But celery extracts are also nitrites. They are simply a different form of nitrite. There is some evidence to suggest that they may even be more dangerous than sodium nitrite.
What is the Solution?
HPP (High-pressure processing) is a very effective way for companies to make sure their meat products are safe. HPP uses high, but safe levels of water pressure to kill bacteria and prevent the growth of mold and fungus. This process can also be used on other types of food products, like fruits and vegetables.
In conclusion, the verdict is still out on whether sodium nitrite is safe to eat. Some studies have shown that it can cause cancer while other studies have shown that the levels of nitrosamines found in deli meats are not harmful.
Thanks to HPP technology McLean Meats can eliminate nitrites including celery extracts in our deli meats, bacon, ham, salami, and sausages. All MCLEAN deli meats are truly preservative-free. We believe any risk is too much when it comes to your health and the health of your family. Visit our store locator to find a store near you or email us.