For those trying to avoid the cancer-linked preservatives nitrates and nitrites, I have some bad news.
All processed meats -- that's bacon, deli meat, sausages, hot dogs, pepperoni, salami -- contain nitrates and nitrites, even those natural or organic products labeled as "uncured" with "no nitrates or nitrites added." Take a look at the additional (sometimes very fine) print on your favorite "uncured" meat and you will most likely find some wording similar to the following: "no nitrates or nitrites added except for those naturally occurring in ingredients such as celery juice powder, parsley, cherry powder, beet powder, spinach, sea salt etc." (emphasis mine).
|The no nitrites exception is easier to find on some labels than on others.|
The truth is that both conventional and natural/ organic processed meat products rely on nitrates and nitrites for enhanced taste and shelf life. The difference is the source. Conventional processed meats typically are cured with synthetic sources of nitrates and nitrites, such as sodium nitrite, while organic and natural meats typically rely on naturally-occurring sources of nitrates, such as celery or sea salt, as preservatives.
During processing, the naturally-occurring nitrates (not harmful when ingested as part of a whole food such as celery) are converted into nitrites. According to the New York Times, the naturally-derived nitrites "are virtually identical to their synthetic cousins" and pose a similar cancer risk. Yet current USDA rules require products with naturally-derived preservatives to prominently feature “Uncured” and “No nitrates or nitrites added” on the label, despite the fact that these products can contain as much or more of the potentially harmful nitrite chemicals.
Confused? That's because the USDA required labeling is confusing. Perhaps a more useful labeling system would allow organic and natural food products to be labeled as having "no synthetic nitrates or nitrites added" or "cured with only naturally-sourced nitrates and nitrites."
So where can you find a hot dog free of both synthetically- and naturally-derived nitrites? Don't bother looking. Nitrates and nitrites are what give processed meats their yummy smoky flavor and organic manufacturers that experimented with producing truly nitrite-free hot dogs found that consumers didn't like them.
How often does your family eat processed meats?