EFSA confirms safe levels for nitrites and nitrates added to food

The British Meat Processors Association has welcomed the European Food Safety Authority’s conclusions that levels of nitrites and nitrates added to food are safe.

Nick Allen BMPA Chief Executive said: “There has been a lot of poorly presented information about nitrites and nitrates in meat products in recent years and hopefully these conclusions from EFSA’s risk assessment will reassure everyone that they can enjoy their food knowing that current practices are sound and safe’’

Existing safe levels for nitrites and nitrates intentionally added to meat and other foods are sufficiently protective for consumers, EFSA has concluded after re-evaluating their safety. 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.

Prof Maged Younes, member of EFSA’s Panel on Food Additives and Nutrient Sources Added to Food, and Chair of the Working Group tasked with the re-evaluation, said: “We re-assessed the safety of nitrites and nitrates added to food as part of EFSA’s re-evaluation programme of all food additives authorised in the EU before 2009. Based on the available evidence, we concluded that there was no need to change previously set safe levels for either substance.”

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