Nitrosamines in food raise a health concern
In March 2023, EFSA's new evaluation of the nitrosamine content of foods was published, according to which the dietary intake of these substances generated during the preparation and processing of foods raises health concerns for all age groups.

Of the 23 nitrosamines tested in food, 10 were found to be genotoxic carcinogens, and EFSA carried out the risk assessment for them. The most critical effect taken into account during the evaluation is the incidence of liver tumors in rodents.

Nitrosamines are found in various foods such as cured meats, processed fish, cocoa, beer and other alcoholic beverages. The most important food category contributing to dietary exposure, according to EFSA, is the group of meats and meat products, but they are also found in processed vegetables, grains, milk and dairy products, as well as fermented, pickled and spiced foods.

At the same time, limited information is available on exactly what foods they occur in. Their origin can be linked to the reaction of nitrosating substances (e.g. nitrites or nitrogen oxides) and amino compounds under the conditions of processing.

For this reason, many manufacturers strive to reduce added nitrite and nitrate additives. In its 2017 evaluation, EFSA found that the formation of N-nitrosamines in the body following the consumption of meat products containing permitted amounts of added nitrites (potassium and sodium nitrite) is less of a concern. In their present opinion, they did not deal with the risks arising from the formation of nitrosamines in the body following the consumption of these foods.

The evaluation was released for public consultation at the end of 2022, and the document was revised taking into account the comments received. Based on the now finalized assessment, it will be the responsibility of the member states to make the appropriate risk management decisions.

The French ANSES recommends reducing the consumption of charcuterie (processed meats, sausages) in France, according to which no more than 150g should be consumed per week, as these products have been linked to the development of colorectal cancer due to the nitrites and nitrates they contain. The consumption of 99% of the French population exceeds the limit recommended by EFSA. At the same time, the activity of consumers, their tendency to cancer and the rest of the diet also play a large role in the development of possible health effects. ANSES also recommends limiting the addition of nitrate and nitrite additives to meat products by reducing the shelf life, so there will be less need for preservatives, or regulating their salt content, resting and curing processes. It is also necessary to optimize the use of fertilizers and livestock effluents, being additional sources of these compounds.

Nitrosamines were found in traces not only in food, but also in medicines, which raises the need for their re-evaluation (for at least 20 medicines).


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