Frequently asked questions about nitrate and nitrite.
Nitrate (NO2-) and nitrite (NO3-) are two molecules that create nitric oxide in the body, which is essential to a healthy metabolism and good cardiovascular health.
Nitrate is converted to nitrite in our bodies through a normal metabolic process. Nitrate is converted to nitrite through healthy bacteria in our mouths and saliva.
Yes – they are important to the formation of nitric oxide, which is essential to good cardiovascular health, and have many other health benefits. Approximately 50% of nitric oxide in our bodies comes from the food we eat, and the other half is actually produced by our bodies as part of our normal metabolism.
Nitrate and nitrite have been used as a food preservative for thousands of years. They act as an antioxidant in meat to keep fat from breaking down causing poor flavour and to also inhibit the ability of spoilage bacteria and pathogens, such as Clostridium botulinum to grow.
Many foods. Leafy green and root vegetables contain the highest levels of nitrate, while cured meats represent about 10% of our total dietary intake.
They are approved in Canada and around the world as a safe and essential preservative. Health Canada requires their use in certain cured meats to protect food safety.
For more information on the allowable input level of nitrate and nitrite in cured meats, please refer to Health Canada’s Food and Drugs Regulations or the Canadian Food Inspection Agency’s web site and search for the Meat Hygiene Manual of Procedures.
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency defines the appropriate use of the word "natural" for the food industry and we must adhere to their policies. Essentially it means that the product contains no artificial flavours or additives, with no significant processing or alteration of ingredients.
We removed sodium nitrite, sodium phosphate, sodium diacetate, potassium lactate and sodium erythorbate. All ingredients that go into Naturals must be approved by the CFIA and defined as natural under their regulations.
They do if they contain certain vegetable-based ingredients, such as cultured celery extract, which are sources of naturally-occurring nitrate and nitrite. Cultured celery extract is cultured to produce nitrite through a process similar to adding bacterial culture to milk to produce yogurt. In combination with vinegar, lemon juice and sea salt, cultured celery extract is a natural preservative that plays an important role in food safety.
It is celery fermented with bacteria, similar to how yoghurt or beer is made. It is a natural source of nitrite.
Consumers told us they wanted products made with simpler, fewer, more natural ingredients. It took us more than four years to develop these products.
Cultured celery extract is a natural preservative. Sodium nitrite is synthetically produced.
In most of our cured meat items, we typically have nitrite levels of 200 parts per million of nitrite. For our natural line of products, the input level of nitrite is roughly 50% lower than in conventional cured products (except bacon, which is 10% lower). However, nitrite degrades, so over time, levels in both conventional and natural products are reduced to similar, very low levels.
Nitrosamines are compounds which rarely form and only under certain conditions, when nitrite and secondary amines (proteins) react. Some nitrosamines are harmless to humans while others are carcinogenic. Exposure to nitrosamine carcinogens can potentially occur through a number of sources including cosmetics, tobacco, medications, agricultural chemicals and occupational exposure.
There is a very low risk of exposure to nitrosamine formation in cured meats. It is effectively inhibited through including ascorbic acid (Vitamin C) or sodium erythorbate (a chemical cousin to Vitamin C) in the ingredients. This has been proven through mandatory tracking of nitrosamine levels in cured meats by the USDA for the past 30 years. There is a slightly higher risk that nitrosamines could form through cooking cured meats at high temperatures, particularly bacon. As a result, slightly higher levels of ascorbic acid or erythorbate are added to bacon, which reduces any nitrosamines to minute levels (measured in parts per billion).
The gold standard for determining carcinogenicity of chemicals is a decade long, comprehensive study conducted by the National Toxicology Program in the U.S. Based on their findings, and review by an independent scientific panel, it was concluded that there was no evidence of a link between consumption of nitrite and cancer. There have been epidemiology studies based upon diet history information that indicate a potential association between high levels of prepared meat consumption and colon cancer, however there are many confounding factors in these types of studies and epidemiology alone does not determine cause and effect. The CFIA and regulatory agencies around the world view nitrite as safe, and it has an essential role in protecting food safety.