Magazine article USA TODAY

Curing Processed Meats without Nitrite

Magazine article USA TODAY

Curing Processed Meats without Nitrite

Article excerpt

Rationing one's intake of hot dogs, salami, and pepperoni to avoid nitrite preservatives - the precursors of potential carcinogens - might not be necessary for much longer. A nitrite-free technique to cure processed meats and fish-meat blends is being considered for government approval in Canada, and then will be submitted in the U.S.

Processed meats are cured to preserve flavor and color and prevent microbial growth. Curing traditionally has been done with sodium nitrite, in combination with ascorbic acid (vitamin C), spices, sugar, salt, and sometimes phosphates. Nitrite reacts with amines and amino acids in the meat to form carcinogenic N-nitrosamines, according to Fereidoon Shahidi, a food biochemistry professor at Memorial University of Newfoundland, St. John's, Canada.

The alternative curing process is based on one of the distinctive features of nitrite-cured meat - its pinkish color. The pigment responsible for that color can be used along with vitamin E to replace the nitrite, Shahidi and his colleagues found, because the pigment has anti-oxidant properties, which helps to preserve flavor. Anti-microbial agents that have "generally recognized as safe" status (and therefore don't need to be re-approved) can be added as well, if desired. …

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