It follows a study carried out by the EC to collect data on the need for nitrites in meat products across the EU. This concluded that it was possible to review the maximum levels of nitrites to prevent the growth of harmful bacteria.
A report produced following the EC study suggested that the range of 80 to 100mg/kg of nitrite added would be reasonably safe for the majority of products when used in combination with other food hygiene ‘hurdles’.
However, it also stressed that it was not possible to reach a firm conclusion for all products in all situations, since microbiological safety was dependent on a number of factors.
Some suppliers are concerned that the report implied the processed meat sector across the EU had not done enough to reduce nitrite levels, despite significant reductions in both nitrite and salt in recent years. Nitrites have been associated with some forms of cancer.
Food safety risks
Cured meat suppliers in the UK are particularly concerned that a reduction of nitrites to 100mg/kg could present food safety risks or lead to reductions in shelf-life.
They are also worried about how any changes might affect the exemptions allowed for certain traditional products.
The issue is of concern to the Provision Trade Federation (PTF), whose members include manufacturers of ham, bacon and other meat preparations.
“Significant reductions have already been made to the limits for nitrites in cured meats and we would caution against a further reduction without scientific evidence,” warned PTF director-general Andrew Kuyk.
‘Caution against a further reduction’
“The safety and shelf-life of cured meats requires a combination of factors, which include both nitrite and salt.
“Any reduction in the nitrite concentration, particularly combined with the ongoing reduction in salt levels in line with public health policy, would require very careful consideration.
“Apart from food safety issues, there could also be implications for food wastage – and potentially for consumer prices as well.
“It is, therefore, essential that manufacturers are fully involved in the review process, including conducting proper trials to evaluate any potential reductions.”
The Food Standards Agency recently held a meeting with stakeholders to discuss the issue.