Food Safety Facts: Sodium Nitrate and Sodium Nitrite In Processed Meats
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Food Safety Facts: Sodium Nitrate and Sodium Nitrite In Processed Meats

The question is still being asked and still remains to be answered: is sodium nitrate laden processed food safe for human consumption? Learn some facts to help you determine if eating them is beneficial or detrimental to your health.

This writer confesses that I love cold cuts.   Whether it’s salami, pastrami, baked Virginia ham or turkey mesquite -- it's all baloney anyway you cut it.  However, for many years health food advocates as well as certain nutritional organizations have maintained that because of all the sodium nitrate found within these processed meats, it is better to steer as far away as possible from them.

After all that has been written about the subject, this writer decided to find out as much as possible concerning the sodium nitrate which is found in processed meats in particular and share the facts with you the reading audience.

Firstly, Just What Is Sodium Nitrate?

Sodium nitrate (NaNO3) and its cousin sodium nitrite (NaNO2) are by far the most commonly found preservatives in processed meats.   Popular meats such as hot dogs, pepperoni, salami and bacon contain minimal amounts of this ingredient.

What Is Its Purpose and Use

Used primarily as a preservative, sodium nitrate is “salted” into the meat packing process to retard spoilage and is also used as a color preservative to maintain that beautiful red or pinkish hue in the meats and salmon fish.

It is also used to combat botulism which is a kind of food poisoning many times found in improperly canned or preserved food.

Nitrate Is Also Produced and Found in Nature

Not all forms of sodium nitrate is unhealthy as it is naturally found in vegetables and fruit such as: root vegetables such as carrots, leafy greens such as spinach and/or grain. Essentially, if the veggie can be grown in the ground, chances are that sodium nitrate will be uprooted with it.

Further indicative of its tie to nature is the fact that you're breathing 78 percent nitrogen every time you take a deep breath.  Equally interesting is that when you eat of nature’s bounty, the sodium nitrate which you digest is rapidly converted into sodium nitrite by your digestive system.

What Are Its Risk?

The question arose several decades ago as to the safety factor of digesting sodium nitrate laden foods in processed meats and could the ingredient actually cause cancer in laboratory rats.  In the midst of unprecedented media hype, it was determined that all the nebulous tests for sodium nitrate were proved absolutely inconclusive; consequently, the public went happily on its path of eating hot dogs and processed meats.

Well, not all of the public. Since then an entire industry has sprung forth from sodium nitrate-free and sodium nitrite-free foods.  However, with time there arose yet another question: if sodium nitrate combats against botulism, does removing it from processed meats constitute a health risk of acquiring botulism?

A peculiar little bug, botulism bacteria actually needs an oxygen-free environment to thrive. Once out of its enclosed quarters it instantly dies upon making contact with the air. It is most found in canned, vacuum-packed foods, garlic stored in oil and improperly cured meats.


Personally, this writer prefers everything as close as to how God originally meant things to be. Yet, by eating a piece of processed meat every once in a very long while, I believe the chances are lessened for contamination or illness from eating excess sodium nitrate amounts.

However, there is another fact which will be later covered in an ensuing article: how are the meats processed and from where are they coming to us? Can we truly depend on the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to be bastions for our health?


Written by Beverly Anne Sanchez, March 8, 2011

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Comments (5)
Ranked #29 in Food Safety

Ironically, I was eating a salami sandwich when I read this. I'm going to finish it, too. ;)

Please finish it Pat with my bon apetit! I just finished 5 Oreos. The shame of it all.

Ranked #29 in Food Safety

We're hopeless.

What a load of baloney,lol. Sorry Bev, coudn't resist. Great article and voted.

Ranked #12 in Food Safety

Another food awareness facts, Beverly, expert presentation, thanks.