Evaluating the Residual Nitrite Concentrations of Bacon in the United Kingdom

Foods. 2020 Jul 11;9(7):916. doi: 10.3390/foods9070916.


The preservative sodium nitrite is added to processed meat with the intention of preventing the growth of Clostridium botulinum, but this also influences product flavour and colour. The World Health Organisation has declared nitrites to be 'probably carcinogenic'. Use is permitted by the European Union but its addition is limited to 100 mg/kg in all processed meat, except bacon, which is limited to 175 mg/kg. At present, there is no independent peer-reviewed literature assessing the residual nitrite levels in bacon in the United Kingdom. Furthermore, this is the largest study of residual nitrite concentrations in bacon that has ever been conducted. A total of 89 different commercially available bacon samples were collected, and analysed using flow injection analysis to determine their residual nitrite content. The mean residual nitrite concentration for all bacon samples was 10.80 mg/kg. Residual nitrite levels did not differ between smoked and unsmoked bacon. Middle cut bacon (26.00 mg/kg) had significantly higher residual nitrite concentrations than back bacon (8.87 mg/kg; p = 0.027), and medallion bacon (4.47 mg/kg; p = 0.008). This study shows that there is large variation in the mean residual nitrite levels of bacon sold in the UK and all the reported values are within current regulatory limits. Despite this, it appears that many manufacturers could decrease the amount that they are currently using in their products.

Keywords: bacon; nitrite; processed meat.