Nitrates (E251 Sodium nitrate; E252 Potassium nitrate) act as anti-botox in sausages and
they have a wide use in cheeses production. They are able to form N-alkyl-nitrosamines, with heat or in vitro. Freund first reported N-alkyl-nitrosamines toxicological effects on humans (Annals Internal Medicine, 10, 1144, 1937), being capable to induce mutagenic and carcinogenic effects. Their formation is inhibited by ascorbic acid. Nitrate is naturally present in vegetables and, in particularly high level, in leafy vegetables such as lettuce and spinach. In the human body, nitrate is converted into nitrite, which, at high levels, can cause methemoglobinemia also known as blue baby syndrome—a pathological condition that reduces the oxygen supply to the body.
The latest WHO press, Q&A on the carcinogenicity of the consumption of red meat and processed meat October 2015, connects cancer incidence with increased consumption of red and processed meat. It states:
Carcinogenic chemicals that form during meat processing include N-nitroso compounds and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. Cooking of red meat or processed meat also produces heterocyclic aromatic amines as well as other chemicals including polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, which are also found in other foods and in air pollution.
There have been made several attempts to use molecules able to replace the nitrate and nitrite—for example, some alkyl fumarates and, more recently, some aliphatic and aromatic ketones.
Recently, the bioprotective cultures have been developed (The Dairy Safe TM cultures developed by CSK together with NIZO food research) as alternative to nitrate or lysozyme to protect cheese against late-blowing defects. These cultures have protective properties, and they are particularly effective against Gram-positive bacteria and bacterial spores.
In the United States, sodium and potassium nitrate are considered as Specific Prior Sanctioned Food Ingredients when packaged separately from flavoring and seasoning in curing premixes, in the production of cured red meat products and cured poultry products.
Hexamethylene tetramine (E239) is a food additive currently permitted only in the European Union for use in Provolone cheese. The maximum permitted level is 25 mg/ kg residual amount, expressed as formaldehyde, the breakdown product of HMT under acidic conditions or in the presence of proteins. ADI was confirmed by EFSA on May 13, 2014.
The technological developments in the food industry may allow, through the combination of different factors, to obtain a food of high quality that do not deteriorate easily. This result could be achieved through a combination of middle heat stress with preservatives. In this case, the quantity of preservatives could be decreased significantly, resulting in health and economic benefits.
Since some years now there is increasing interest in use of the new processing techniques, such as physical treatments, alternative to traditional heat treatment for food preservation (HTST, UHT, pasteurization). These treatments could allow food shelf-life extension without significant damage on its texture and organoleptic properties such as color, flavor, nutritive, and functional qualities.