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The technological function and labelling of nitrates and nitrites in meat products: Plant sources vs traditional cure


Consultant Food Science and Technology, Canterbury, United Kingdom


Nitrate and nitrite salts have been used for centuries as curing agents to preserve meat. Recent dietary guidelines to reduce red and processed meats have provided a scientific and media focus on the safety of these food additives in cured meat products.  As a consequence, new sources of “clean-label” nitrate and nitrite are being developed by the industry and are currently being used in commercial products with “no nitrite” or “no nitrate” claims. Product processing, safety and labelling are discussed for both traditional curing salts and plant materials/extracts as sources of nitrates and nitrites in relation to their technological function in cured meat.


Meat and processed meat products remain a popular food choice providing important dietary nutrients including protein and essential micronutrients (1). However, since the publication of the World Health Organisation (WHO) 2015 report (2) regarding the carcinogenic potential of red meat and processed meat in the diet there has been a global media focus on the issues which have not always provided information to the public in a balanced or contextual way (3,4).  Other expert panels have tried to address the fundamental misunderstandings in the media and re-balance information from the evidence for meat consumers (1, 5).

Overall and in terms of the possible impact of red meat and processed meat on cardiometabolic and cancer outcomes there seems to be only low-certainty of evidence of a very small reduction of cancer and other adverse health consequences of reducing consumption (6). This does not mean that there is no risk but in terms of a comparative risk assessment approach, a study in The Lancet (7) has shown that diets high in sodium, low in whole grains, fruits nuts and vegetables c ...

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