Are the nitrites in deli meats a health risk?

Cured meats contain sodium nitrite which is responsible for their pink color. However, sodium nitrite is more important for its ability to prevent the growth of  Clostridium botulinum, which causes botulism. Original concerns were with sodium NITRATE, which had to be converted to nitrite by bacteria.  The concern was that if nitrate was not converted, it could form nitrogen-containing chemical compounds (nitrosoamines) in the stomach, and these could cause cancer.  Nowadays, the use of sodium nitrate has pretty much been discontinued in favor of sodium nitrite. Also, in order to be sure that the nitrite is in a reduced form, a cure accelerator (a reducing agent) is required during the manufacture of  cured products.  These changes do not completely eliminate the possibility of  nitrosoamine formation and its associated health risks, but the risk is greatly reduced.


Sodium nitrite, which has been controversial, actually makes product safer because Clostridium botulinum grows in the absence of air.  If  deli meats didn’t contain nitrite, it would be unsafe to vacuum-package them because there would be nothing to stop the growth of this deadly organism.
Susan Brewer, Ph.D. University of Illinos, Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition

I think that this is one of those times when we need a professional to help us with an answer. I have a few friends that work as doctors for a suboxone treatment center. They could provide some useful information. My sincere opinion is that botulism is dangerous enough... and should be avoided at all costs.


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