According to French scientists, research shows there is a correlation between cured meats and colon cancer which can be attributed to nitrates and nitrites found in the meat.
The French Agency for Food, Environmental and Occupational health & Safety also known as ANSES has said that over half of their countries exposure to nitrites is through delicatessen meat because of the additives used to preserve and prepare it.
Nitrites are used mainly as food-additives because of their anti-bacterial nature, with most cured meats containing E249, E250 according to ANSES.
However, this percentage is much lower for nitrates, with only 4 per cent of a persons diet containing the compounds.
ANSES states nitrate as being part of the “natural components of plants” and vital to their growth.
Most of the time these chemicals can also end up in water through urban and industrial waste, agricultural activities, and the natural nitrogen cycle.
Researchers analysed several cancer studies from Europe and around the world, which helped to confirm that a higher exposure to these compounds can be harmful.
“Nitrites and nitrates ingested through food and water are known to generate the formation of nitroso compounds, some of which are carcinogenic and genotoxic to humans,” said ANSES.
France does have in place exposure limits as to how much of these compounds can be present in food and water, but nevertheless, there’s a risk ANSES says.
“That is why the Agency considers that the intentional addition of nitrites and nitrates to food should adhere to an “as low as reasonably achievable”.
They recommend that levels of these compounds be controlled through the decrease of certain activities such as the spreading fertilisers and livestock manure.
Moreover, they’ve suggested that people reduce their intake of delicatessen meat to 150 g a week while also having a “varied and balanced diet”.
According to Food Standards Australia New Zealand there are no associated risks with exposure to nitrate and nitrite in foods.
“Rather, the health benefits of fruit and vegetables are widely accepted, and eating these foods is recommended as part of a balanced diet.”