(E250) Sodium nitrite

  • Sodium nitrite
  • Origin
  • Safety
  • Couclusion
  • Found In

Is found in pretty much all packaged and processed meat products like bacon, sausages, salami, sandwich meat, hot dogs, Cheerios, beef jerky and pretty much any kind of meat you might find in a can. Includes your favourite 97% fat free ham and most of the meats in the deli section at your favourite supermarket, but there will be no labelling because you are buying unpackaged. Don’t even want to think about the ham luncheon.

Any processed meat that has an overly pinkish or reddish hue is likely to have been primed with sodium nitrite.

It is a salt prepared by treating sodium hydroxide with mixtures of nitrogen dioxide and nitric oxide.

Health & Safety
With many of the food additives there will be a range of literature and opinions around the health risks. For sodium nitrite even the most conservative right-wing website had to acknowledge the dangers of consuming food with this additive. Generally the risks seem to be fairly consistently and well documented:

  • The USDA attempted to ban it in the 1970’s but the food manufacturers complained that there was no viable alternative
  • Is widely considered to be highly carcinogenic once it enters the human digestive system as it forms nitrosamine compounds in the bloodstream
  • The Linus Pauling Institute links nitrosamines to cancer, particularly cancer of the liver and lung
  • It causes acute methemoglobinemia (haemoglobin loses its ability to carry oxygen) and the early symptoms include irritability, lack of energy, headache, dizziness, vomiting, diaorrhea, laboured breathing
  • Is an eye, skin and respiratory irritant
  • May be fatal if swallowed is one warning I found
  • May provoke hyperactivity and other reactions
  • Is prohibited or restricted in use in a number of countries
  • A 2005 University of Hawaii study showed it increased the risk of pancreatic cancer by 67%
  • They are a particular risk for pregnant women as they have been shown to cross the placenta barrier and present and increased risk of tumour to the unborn

The generally accepted and widespread conclusion is that you should not eat any food containing sodium nitrite, or its sister food potassium nitrite (E249). Which can present some huge difficulties when you consider that if, you are living in New Zealand or Australia, and you eat anything with meat in it that is not bought fresh and cooked in the home it is likely to contain sodium nitrite.

Certainly any processed meat that comes in plastic or has been cured in some way is highly likely to have been treated with it. Pretty much all of the deli meats at your local delicatessen or supermarket will have been treated with sodium nitrite.

Even fresh meat may have been treated with it. If it has been hanging around in the shop for a few days and is starting to look a little tired there is nothing stopping the butcher from freshening it up by the addition of a little sodium nitrite.

There is a significant body of evidence that sodium nitrite is a known carcinogen and it is banned in Canada, Norway, Sweden and Germany.

Found In
Products that I have found it in (and stopped using...or never started):

  • Beehive (Naturally wood smoked & honey cured) Streaky Bacon
  • Kiwi Bacon
  • Hellers Streaky Bacon
  • Turks Whole Smoked Chicken
  • Romano's Ham & Pineapple Pizza
  • McCain Family Pizza
  • Country Taste Cocktail Sausages, Frankfurters & Polonies (they also all contain E621 MSG)
  • Turks Corn Fed Chicken Sausages (also contains E621 MSG)
  • Verkerks Salami, all types
  • Sizzlers Sausage, all varieties
  • Hobson's Choice Heritage Ham (also contains E621 MSG)
  • La Baguette Deli Quiche
  • Tegal Chicken wrapped in bacon with avocado (generally sold in the Deli section of supermarkets) (also contains E621 MSG)
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