But critics, including a recent report from the World Health Organization, blame sodium nitrite for increasing the risk of cancer. It’s why the WHO said processed meats are riskier than fresh cuts and warned that the public should curb consumption. Others call sodium nitrite a “known carcinogen”.
But the American Meat Institute, in its most recent in a series of Media MythCrusher articles, says a two-year by the U.S. National Toxicology Program found that feeding animals nitrites does not cause cancer at levels used in the meat industry.
“It is also a myth that cured meat products are the most common source of nitrite in our diets,” says the NAMI.
“Scientists say that 93 percent of human nitrite intake comes from vegetables, particularly root vegetables such as celery, beets, carrots, spinach and lettuce, and from saliva, thanks to the body’s own healthy, nitrogen cycle.
“Less than five percent of human nitrite intake is sourced to cured meats,” the MythCrusher article says.
“Nitrite is a very important ingredient with significant and proven food safety benefits,” says Betsy Booren, NAMI vice president of scientific affairs.
“Nitrite is critical in preventing botulism, the deadliest foodborne illness. In fact, since sodium nitrite was approved for use in cured meats in 1925, no cases of botulism have been associated with commercially prepared cured meats.”
The document also explains that meats cured “naturally” still rely on a form of nitrite (nitrate) that occurs naturally in ingredients such as celery powder and this fact is noted on the front of the package and in the ingredient statement.
“Nitrite’s benefits are now recognized in treating many medical conditions including preventing preeclampsia during pregnancy, promoting wound healing, controlling blood pressure, and helping with successful organ transplantation,” said Booren.