Nitrates | Is Sodium Nitrate Food Safe? and Nitrate Free Bacon

Nitrates | Our thoughts & the facts

Why use nitrates?

Nitrates or Sodium Nitrates to be exact are critical to the food safety of cured meats. They not only act as a deterrent for pathogenic bacteria but are also instrumental in the quality of the product. They assist with flavour development, are critical for the red colour synonymous with cured meat, and act as antioxidants. The use of nitrates when curing meat is also a legal requirement in the UK should you wish to distribute it.

Are they harmful?

The idea of nitrates being bad for you and undesirable in a cured meat product has started to spike in interest. People seem to be particularly concerned about their bacon being nitrate free. The concept of nitrates in bacon being bad for us came about in the ’70s. Research showed that once fried, bacon contained considerable amounts of nitrosamines; a
potential carcinogen. Nitrosamines are formed at high temperatures when an amine (essentially a broken down amino acid) and nitrite are present. When meat ages, these amines form.

There are primary and secondary amines in aged meat. They are completely harmless, with only the secondary ones likely to form nitrosamines.

There are also considerably more primary (and therefore non-nitrosamine forming) amines in aged meat. For nitrosamines to form the pH of the meat must be extremely low, the nitrate concentration must be high, and the product then heated to about 130c internally (a chef generally cooks meat to 75c). So the risk of carcinogens forming does exist but the risk is zero in non-cooked cured meat products. The risk is extremely low to zero in properly cooked cured meats.

The Risks Of Using Sodium Nitrates In Food

The risk of potentially harmful bacteria being present in non-nitrate cured bacon is considerably higher, and the quality will dip significantly. Even historically when people first started using salt to preserve meat, nitrates would have been present as they used saltpetre.

So a bit of a boring post but it’s important for those around the charcuterie industry to dispel the health scare surrounding nitrates; we use them in all our charcuterie products and are proud of the quality they allow us to produce.

Want to create your own Dry Cured bacon at home? We've put together some handy Bacon Kits. They give you all the tools and guidance you need to create your very own dry cured bacon at home.