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Intake assessment of the food additives nitrite (E 249 and E 250) and nitrate (E 251 and E 252)

De inname van de voedseladditieven nitriet (E 249 en E 250) en nitraat (E 251 en E 252)


Nitrate and nitrite are authorised as preservatives in certain food products, such as salami, ham (nitrite) and cheese (nitrate). They prevent food spoilage and protect the consumer against food-borne pathogens. Next to that, nitrate and nitrite play a role in food colour retention and contribute to flavour formation of the food.

RIVM estimated that the nitrate intake of the population aged 2 to 79 years does not exceed the acceptable daily intake (ADI). The intake of nitrite, however, exceeded the ADI. Because of the conservative assumptions, the real intake will probably much lower. Refinement is needed to obtain a more realistic intake assessment.

RIVM calculated the intake of nitrite and nitrate using the maximum permitted levels as laid down in the European Regulation on food additives. These levels are mostly expressed as maximum ingoing amounts. The actual concentration in food as consumed differs from the ingoing amounts because of chemical processes during processing and storage of foods. The nitrite concentration decreases, but derivatives, such as nitrosamines, may be generated. Analytical values of nitrite in meat products are desired to refine the intake assessment of nitrite. Some other European countries used analytical values of nitrite for their intake assessments. These studies showed lower nitrite intake estimates that remained below the ADI.

Chronic intake of high levels of nitrate, nitrite or their derivatives (such as nitrosamines) may have negative effects on health. Nitrate may hamper growth of young children and nitrite may have a negative effect on heart and lung functioning. Some nitrosamines (but not all) may induce cancer. RIVM did not perform an intake assessment of nitrosamines, because recent analytical data of these substances in food were not available. Analytical values of nitrosamines in food products are also desired to assess whether problems could be expected by current food additive use of nitrate and nitrite.

The study was performed on the initiative of the Dutch Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport (VWS). The research described in this report is part of the programme on the development of an efficient system for monitoring intake of food additives (conform article 27 of EU Regulation 1333/2008).


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