Nitrite and nitrate are two groups of substances used as food additives in some processed foods. The nitrates consist of sodium nitrate (E251) and potassium nitrate (E252), the nitrites consist of potassium nitrite (E249) and sodium nitrite (E250). Nitrite and nitrate are used in cured meats primarily as preservatives. It is likely that they also add flavour and might act as colour stabilisers.
Of 200 samples of bacon and cured meats taken from various retail outlets in England and Wales, only two were found to contain nitrite and/or nitrate above the allowed maximum residual levels. The brand names of all products tested have been named with their individual results.
Food Safety Minister Jeff Rooker said:
"I am pleased to see that the majority of products tested were within permitted limits. The survey shows that consumers can have confidence in the bacon and ham they eat. However, I accept the Food Advisory Committee's view that preservatives, used in controlled amounts, have a valuable role to play in protecting consumers from harmful bacteria in foodstuffs. Manufacturers need to ensure that the amounts they use are adequate for this purpose."
Trading Standards Officers have been informed of the results through the Local Authorities Co-ordinating Body on Food and Trading Standards (LACOTS). The results of the survey can be found in February's Food Safety Information Bulletin.
A Food Surveillance Information Sheet with more details, and the list of outlets with results is available on request from Publicity and Information Section, Room 303b, Ergon House, c/o Nobel House, 17 Smiths Square, London SW1P 3JR. Or telephone: 0345 573012.