Levels of additives to keep meat red and from going off safe, says food safety authority
Existing safe levels for nitrites and nitrates intentionally added to meat and other foods are sufficiently protective for consumers, European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has concluded after re-evaluating their safety.
It says consumer exposure to nitrites and nitrates as food additives is within safe levels for all population groups, except for a slight exceedance in children whose diet is high in foods containing these additives.
However, if all dietary sources of nitrites and nitrates are considered, the safe levels (ADIs) may be exceeded for all age groups.
Sodium and potassium salts of nitrite and nitrate (E 249-252) are authorised as food additives in the EU.
They are used in meat, fish and cheese products to hinder microbial growth, in particular to protect against botulism, as well as to keep meat red and enhance its flavour.
Nitrate is also found naturally in high concentrations in certain vegetables, and it can enter the food chain as an environmental contaminant – mainly in water.
The current acceptable daily intake (ADI) for nitrates is 3.7 milligrams per kilogram of body weight per day (mg/kg bw/day).
The safe level for nitrites was re-established at 0.07 mg/kg bw/day, close to the slightly more conservative existing ADI of 0.06 mg/kg bw/day.