Evira to assess the risks of exposure of children and adults to nitrites and nitrates
An object of the project is to define the contents of nitrates and nitrites in vegetables (from natural sources), charcuteries and cheeses (use of additives) commonly consumed in Finland. In assessing these risks, actual food usage facts and content values based on the analysis of products will be used. The investigation is aimed at providing new information on the extent of exposure of the population in Finland to these compounds.
Exposure to nitrates (NO 3- i.e. nitrate ion) mostly occurs via vegetables. Exposure via water and other food is less frequent. European Food Safety Authority EFSA stated in their assessment in 2008 that, yet, the benefit of using vegetables and fruits vastly bypasses the possible detriments to health from exposures to nitrates. However, the assessment by EFSA pointed out that the contents of nitrates in vegetables widely vary, and that excessive use of some vegetables such as rucola lettuce may boost intake of nitrates to exceed accepted levels.
Nitrates and nitrites (NO 2- i.e. nitrite ion) also are used as additives in charcuteries and cheeses. These compounds prevent the reproduction of harmful microbes, particularly Clostridium botulinum, promote the preservation of red colour in meat, and prevent the oxidation of lipids, which has a positive impact on the flavour and colour of products.
Maximum limits have been set for the contents of nitrates in spinach, green-leaf and iceberg lettuces as well as children’s food. Maximum limits also have been defined for using nitrates and nitrites as additives in meat products and cheeses. In 2008, Evira commissioned analyses for nitrates in 20 samples, 6 of which where of children’s food, 4 of fresh spinach and 10 of fresh lettuce. All samples analyzed complied with regulations.
The side effects of nitrate on health materialize when metabolizing into nitrite. Nitrite can oxidize iron in haemoglobin into a form not transporting oxygen to the organism (methaemoglobin). Exposure to nitrates and nitrites also has been associated with a possible increase in certain types of cancers.
The project jointly is carried out with The National Institute for Health and Welfare (THL) and the Customs Laboratory.
Risk assessment: senior researcher Kirsi-Helena Liukkonen, tel. 02077 24029
Nitrate control: senior inspector Ulla Karlström, tel. 02077 24288
Nitrite control: senior inspector Taina Rautio, tel. 02077 24289
Analytics: senior researcher Tiina Putkonen, tel. 02077 24413
e-mail: first name.last name evira.fi