Sodium nitrate is a food additive used in many processed and cured meats, including many varieties of bacon. It increases shelf life, reduces bacteria and creates the pink hue that gives bacon a fresh appearance. Sodium nitrate also improves the smoky flavors of bacon and slows the rate that bacon will pick up foul smells. Although sodium nitrate seems like a wonderful additive, the benefits might not outweigh the risks.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture monitors the use of sodium nitrate and other nitrates very carefully 1. For every 100 pounds of bacon, a quarter-ounce of sodium nitrate can be used. However, your average bacon contains 5.5 milligrams of nitrates for every gram of bacon, according to a report in the May 2009 issue of the “American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.” As for personal consumption, the World Health Organization recommends eating no more than 3.7 milligrams of nitrates for each 2.2 pounds of body weight. Therefore, someone weighing 125 pounds should consume no more than 210 milligrams of nitrates a day -- the amount of nitrate found in 1.3 ounces of bacon.
- The U.S. Department of Agriculture monitors the use of sodium nitrate and other nitrates very carefully 1.
- As for personal consumption, the World Health Organization recommends eating no more than 3.7 milligrams of nitrates for each 2.2 pounds of body weight.
Are Smoked Meats Healthy?
Pregnant women should take precautions when eating bacon containing sodium nitrate. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, high consumption of nitrates during pregnancy can cause:
- slow intrauterine growth
- infant heart problems
- sudden infant death syndrome
- or SIDS
Furthermore, mothers who consume a lot of cured meats during pregnancy and breastfeeding may increase their child’s risk of brain cancer, although more studies are needed. In rare cases, adults may experience methemoglobinemia, which reduces the amount of oxygen in your blood. This can ultimately lead to death if left untreated.
- Pregnant women should take precautions when eating bacon containing sodium nitrate.
- In rare cases, adults may experience methemoglobinemia, which reduces the amount of oxygen in your blood.
Nitrosamines are created when nitrites are heated. Nitrosamines are a known carcinogen in animals, according to the University of Minnesota. Therefore, people should be cautious when heating nitrate or nitrite-rich foods. When it comes to bacon, try to avoid overcooking the bacon and cook at lower temperatures when possible. This will cut down on the formation of nitrosamines. Furthermore, cooking your bacon in the microwave is better than frying it.
- Nitrosamines are created when nitrites are heated.
- Therefore, people should be cautious when heating nitrate or nitrite-rich foods.
Sodium Nitrite & Cancer
With an increasing awareness of the potential dangers of sodium nitrate, many companies are now producing nitrate- and nitrite-free versions of their bacon. Purchasing these options may help reduce your exposure to sodium nitrates. However, bacon made without nitrates is more prone to spoilage. The U.S. Department of Agriculture requires that bacon made without nitrates or nitrites include the phrase “Not Preserved, Keep Refrigerated Below 40 degrees Fahrenheit At All Times." When buying nitrate-free bacon it is important to observe this rule to avoid an illness 1.
- With an increasing awareness of the potential dangers of sodium nitrate, many companies are now producing nitrate- and nitrite-free versions of their bacon.
Are Smoked Meats Healthy?
Sodium Nitrite & Cancer
Health Problems With Sodium Nitrate
What Are the Dangers of Eating Smoked Meat?
What Are the Side Effects of the Nitrates Used in Food?
Eating Bacon During Pregnancy
How Nitrates & Nitrites Affect Our Bodies
Reheating Cooked Vegetables & Nitrates
Nutrients in Bologna
High Sodium Foods List
- U.S. Department of Agriculture: Food Safety Basics
- USDA FoodData Central. Pork, cured, bacon, pre-sliced, cooked, pan-fried. Updated April 1, 2019.
- USDA FoodData Central. Canadian bacon, cooked, pan-fried. Updated April 1, 2019.
- USDA FoodData Central. Bacon, turkey, microwaved. Updated April 1, 2019.
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- USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service. Bacon and Food Safety. Updated 2013.
- American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology. Meat Allergies. Updated May 2018.
- Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. Nitrate/Nitrite Toxicity: Who Is at Most Risk of Adverse Health Effects from Overexposure to Nitrates and Nitrites? Updated August 2016.
- Howard B, Van Horn L, Hsia J, et al. Low-fat dietary pattern and risk of cardiovascular disease: the Women's Health Initiative Randomized Controlled Dietary Modification Trial. JAMA. 2006;295(6):655-66. doi:10.1001/jama.295.6.655.
- Pelucchi C, Bossett C, Galeone C, et al. Dietary acrylamide and cancer risk: An updated meta-analysis. Int J Cancer. 2015;136, 2912-22. doi:10.1002/ijc.29339.
- U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). Bacon and Food Safety.. Updated October 2013.
Heather Rutherford has enjoyed writing professionally since 2004. Her articles have appeared in ModernMom.com, DailyLife.com, ParentsHut.com, Trails.com and On-the-News. She also works intimately with several small businesses to prepare business plans and other marketing materials. Rutherford is seeking an Associate of Arts in business from North Idaho College.