Processed Meats and Sodium Nitrite
June 24, 2013 Admin 0
Sodium Nitrite is an inorganic compound with a variety of applications in industry, including its use in food production. In particular, sodium nitrite is added to processed meats mainly as a preservative to prevent spoilage and contamination from handling and processing. It also serves as a safeguard against handling by the consumer who may contaminate the meat and become ill from food poisoning if eating it at a later date. Nitrites are impossible to avoid and are present in water, vegetables and fruits and abundant in the environment in general.
Some little known reasons for them being added to processed meats, which in themselves are extremely unhealthy, are to enhance the tangy taste of hams and other lunch meats. Although the main role is to prevent things like Clostridium Botulinum (Botulism) incidences and microbial induced spoilage, the enhanced mouth feel and taste of adding sodium nitrite can make the product more appealing to the consumer. Although sodium nitrite does increase the shelf life of the product, thus increasing the potential timespan of a repeat purchase of a product, rapid spoilage of meats packed in modified atmosphere packs, once opened, usually counters this.
Bacteria that cause spoilage in things like cooked meats are aerobic and need oxygen to survive and prosper. The low oxygen, high nitrogen atmosphere of modified packaging tends to be favourable for increasing storage times before opening. However, for meat products like ham, once opened to the air, there tends to be rapid ensue of browning and discolouration which can displease the consumer. Sodium Nitrite also helps prevent this problem and also enhances the ‘redness’ of the meat whilst still in the modfied atmosphere packaging.
Consumption of sodium nitrite in large amounts by regular ingestion of processed meats can lead to toxicity. Problems which may occur include an risk of developing methemoglobinemia, anemia and the increased risk of birth defects and miscarriages. What makes the whole subject worse, is that lunch meats and ham are often marketed as healthy by food manufacturers because they are ‘low in fat’.Although sodium nitrite cannot cause cancer simply by its consumption alone, it can combine with amines during digestion of proteins, to form nitrosamines. Nitrosamines are a group of highly toxic carcinogens most commonly related to smoking. Some manufacturers have taken the step of adding alpha-tocopherol (vitamin E) to their cured meats to inhibit nitrosamine formation.
As it is a difficult (as in the case of Fluoride) to avoids all contact with nitrites, particularly sodium nitrite, one step you can do to avoid them as much as possible is to avoid all food products that contain them. In general this will be processed meats and a cursory look at the ingredients on the label will usually confirm their presence. In the past, it was thought by some individuals that meats you obtain directly from a Deli counter did not contain sodium nitrite as they did not need it. Nothing could be more far from the truth and often, processed meats that have been tumbled (formed into shapes that resemble cuts of actual meat from an animal to mislead consumers) and appear on deli counters as ‘ham joints’ are often higher in sodium nitrite than packet hams and turkey lunch meats. In conclusion, avoiding all lunch meats, sausages, bacon, hams and processed meats products is a hugely positive step in preserving yours and your families health now and in the future
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