The use of these preservatives has caused great turmoil andconcern amongst consumers, nd has often also been the source of misinformation,, so much so that cured meats have been singled out as one of the potential causes of some cancers. Nitrites and nitrates are natural substances, many types of vegetables are rich in them (celery, spinach, chard, beet are examples), and they are present in animals that eat grass and grains, and consequently they are naturally present in many of the foods we eat daily.
Both nitrites, indicated by E249, E250, and nitrates, E251 and E252,, are used to preserve and season foods.
These preservatives act by inhibiting the growth of pathogenic bacteria, ensuring or even enhancing ,the red color of meat, depending on the amount used, giving the consumer the idea of a fresh, quality product. This has led to a gradual increase in their use, which has tripled over the years.
But what happens to our bodies when we consume these molecules?
Granted that most nitrates are naturally excreted, some of them, upon contact with saliva, are converted into nitrites, which can turn into nitrosamines when reaching our stomachs.
Nitrosamines areare carcinogens (which are also formed when we over-roast meat), so high or prolonged ingestion of nitrates and nitrites can increase the likelihood of developing digestive system cancers.
This is why the EFSA (European Food Safety Authority) has set limits within which nitrate and nitrite content in food does not pose a health risk to consumers.
According to European Directive 95/2/EC of 1995
• nitrite E249 and E250 may be added to cured meats within a limit of 150 mg/Kg of product.
• on the other hand, the content of nitrates E251 and E252 cannot exceed 250 mg/kg of product.
According to the World Health Organization
• no more than 0.1 mg of nitrite per kilogram of body weight per day should be ingested.
The European Scientific Committee on Food recommends
• not exceeding 0.06 mg of nitrite and 3.7 milligrams of nitrate per kilogram of body weight. So just over 4 mg of nitrite for a person weighing 70 kg.
This means that if in a finished cured meat product, we have 50 mg of nitrite per kilogram, and consuming 100 grams would have already exceeded the recommended daily intake. It is crucial to minimize the use of preservatives. Achieving this requires utilizing superior production techniques and raw materials. In the DOP specifications governing long-cured raw hams such as Parma or San Daniele prosciutto crudo, for example, products that are part of the Franchi catalog, the addition of these preservatives have been excluded.