Nitrosamines In Bacon: A Case Study Of Balancing Risks
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Nitrosamines In Bacon: A Case Study Of Balancing Risks

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    Public Health Rep
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    Nitrite has been used for centuries to preserve, color, and flavor meat. Today, about 10 billion pounds of cured meat products are produced annually, accounting for some one-tenth of the American food supply. Regulators became concerned about the safety of using nitrite in the early 1960s when studies showed the presence of carcinogenic nitrosamines in cured meat products. In the early 1970s, a study at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology implicated nitrite itself as a carcinogen. As studies have raised concern over the safety of nitrite, regulators have had to weigh the potential risk from cancer against nitrite's proven role in protecting consumers from deadly food poisoning bacteria. Today there is little scientific support for the theory that nitrite is a direct carcinogen. To deal with the nitrosamine problem, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) lowered the permissible amount of nitrite in cured meats to that level considered necessary for botulism protection. Regulators, however, found it necessary to take additional steps with bacon because nitrosamines were found consistently in fried bacon samples. In addition to lowering the amount of nitrite that could be added to "pumped bacon" (cured by injecting liquid curing agents in the pork belly), USDA required the addition of nitrosamine inhibitors and began an intensive monitoring program in processing plants to ensure that fried bacon did not contain confirmable nitrosamines. The cooperative effort between Government and industry resulted in the virtual elimination of confirmable nitrosamines in pumped bacon by 1980. USDA is continuing its efforts to reduce nitrite in meats wherever possible. It is involved in active research programs in the Federal Government, academia, and industry.
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