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Nitrite is a general term for a class of inorganic compounds. It mainly refers to sodium nitrite, which is white to light yellow powder or granules, tastes slightly salty, and is soluble in water. Nitrite is widely found in the human environment and is the most common nitrogenous compound in nature. Nitrite has a similar appearance and taste to salt, and is widely used in industry and construction.
Figure 1. Nitrite in meat
The Harm of Nitrite Exceeding the Standard in Meat
As a coloring agent for meat products, nitrite reacts with myoglobin in meat to produce rosy nitroso myoglobin, which enhances the color of meat; it also enhances the flavor of meat and prevents the clostridium botulinum. As a preservative for meat products, nitrite can extend the shelf life of food. However, The absorption of excess nitrite in the human body will affect the operation of red blood cells, so that the blood cannot transport oxygen, and the lips and fingertips will turn blue, which is commonly known as "blue blood disease". When nitrite poisoning is severe, the oxygen of brain will be deprived and lead to death. Nitrite itself is not carcinogenic, but under cooking or other conditions, the nitrite in the meat will react with amino acid degradation to form a strong carcinogenic nitrosamine. Excessive nitrite intake can induce methemoglobinemia in infants. The high methemoglobin content is increased by the combination of a large amount of nitrite in the human body and hemoglobin in the blood. Methemoglobin cannot bind to oxygen, making the body hypoxic. In addition, studies have shown that high nitrate intake can reduce the body's digestion and absorption of iodine, leading to goiter.
Regulation for Nitrite in Meat
Sodium nitrite is used in the curing of meat because it not only prevents bacterial growth, but also acts as a reducing agent. When reacting with muscle myoglobin, the product has an ideal pink "fresh" color, such as for pickling beef. The use of this nitrite dates back to the Middle Ages and has been officially used in the United States since 1925. Due to the relatively high toxicity of nitrite (a lethal dose in humans is approximately 22 mg/kg body weight), the maximum allowable nitrite concentration in meat products is 200 ppm.
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