Mechanisms of the bactericidal effects of nitrate and nitrite in cured meats

Meat Sci. 2018 Nov;145:273-284. doi: 10.1016/j.meatsci.2018.06.013. Epub 2018 Jul 10.


For cured meat products, nitrite is recognized for its antimicrobial effects against pathogenic bacteria, even though the specific inhibitory mechanisms are not well known. Nitrite contributes to oxidative stress by being the precursor of peroxynitrite (ONOO-), which is the major strong oxidant. Thus, bacterial stress (highly pH-very low partial pressure of oxygen-dependent) is enhanced by the nitrate-nitrite-peroxynitrite system which is also highly pH- and low partial pressure of oxygen-dependent. Nitrite is a hurdle technology which effectiveness depends on several other hurdle technologies including sodium chloride (accelerating the autoxidation of oxymyoglobin and promote peroxynitrite formation), ascorbate (increasing ONOO- synthesis), and Aw. In this environment, certain species are more resistant than others to acidic, oxidative, and nitrative stresses. The most resistant are gram-negative aerobic/facultative anaerobic bacteria (Escherichia coli, Salmonella), and the most fragile are gram-positive anaerobic bacteria (Clostridium botulinum). This position review highlights the major chemical mechanisms involved, the active molecules and their actions on bacterial metabolisms in the meat ecosystem.

Keywords: Acetate; Cured meat; Lactate; Mechanism; Microorganism; Nitrite.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / pharmacology*
  • Bacteria / drug effects*
  • Food Handling
  • Food Microbiology
  • Food Preservation / methods*
  • Food Preservatives / pharmacology*
  • Humans
  • Meat Products / microbiology*
  • Nitrates / pharmacology*
  • Nitrites / pharmacology*


  • Anti-Bacterial Agents
  • Food Preservatives
  • Nitrates
  • Nitrites