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Meat Sci. 2008 Jan;78(1-2):68-76. doi: 10.1016/j.meatsci.2007.05.030. Epub 2007 Jun 27.

The use and control of nitrate and nitrite for the processing of meat products.

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Federal Research Centre for Nutrition and Food, E.C. Baumann Strasse 20, 95326 Kulmbach, Germany.


Nitrate and nitrite are used for the purpose of curing meat products. In most countries the use of both substances, usually added as potassium or sodium salts, is limited. Either the ingoing or the residual amounts are regulated by laws. The effective substance is nitrite acting primarily as an inhibitor for some microorganisms. Nitrite added to a batter of meat is partially oxidized to nitrate by sequestering oxygen - thus it acts as an antioxidant - a part of nitrite is bound to myoglobin, forming the heat stable NO-myoglobin, a part is bound to proteins or other substances in meat. Nitrate may be reduced to nitrite in raw meat products by microorganisms. As oxidation and reduction may occur the concentrations of nitrite plus nitrate in a product has to be controlled and measured especially if the residual amounts are regulated. This sum of both compounds is important for the human body. Intake of nitrate with food leads to its absorption over the digestive tract into the blood. In the oral cavity nitrate appears again where it is reduced to nitrite. With the saliva the nitrite is mixed with food, having the same effect as nitrite in a batter (inhibiting growth of some pathogenic microorganisms) and swallowed. In the stomach nitrite can eventually form carcinogenic nitrosamines in the acidic environment.

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