Moderation in consumption of cold cuts and sausages by children
The Finnish Food Safety Authority Evira, the National Institute for Health and Welfare and the National Nutrition Council have revised their recommendation concerning the eating of sausages, cold cuts and vegetables rich in nitrates by children under school age.
The recommendation for sausages and cold cuts is based on their levels of added nitrites and the exposure to nitrites from household water. Nitrites are used as food additives in processed meat products to prevent the growth of bacteria that cause food poisoning and to maintain the red colour of the meat. The recommendation also takes into account the saturated fat and salt content of sausages and cold cuts.
No sausages or cold cuts for children under the age of 1
According to the recommendation, neither sausages nor cold cuts should be given to children under the age of 1.
Otherwise, children under school age should eat a maximum of 150 g altogether of sausages and cold cuts per week. In practice, this means one meal made with cooking sausages per week and one slice of a cold cut per day, or two meals made with cooking sausages per week, or two slices of cold cuts per day.
The amount should be even lower for smaller children aged 1 to 2, no more than one meal made with cooking sausages per week and a slice of cold cut occasionally.
The term ‘sausage’ is here used to mean cooking sausages such as wieners, grill sausages and similar products and raw sausages such as siskonmakkara. The term ‘cold cuts’ is here used to mean products such as Balkan sausage and lauantaimakkara, cured sausages such as salami, and full meat products such as sliced ham, chicken and turkey fillet. A ham and potato casserole ( kinkkukiusaus) is equivalent to a sausage meal.
Variety of vegetables
According to the recommendation, vegetables naturally rich in nitrates and products made from them should be avoided for children under the age of 1. Vegetables naturally rich in nitrates include spinach, red beet, various salads including pak choi and rocket, fresh herbs, cabbage, turnip cabbage, pumpkin, radish, stalk celery, fennel, sprouts and root vegetable juices.
Vegetables are an essential part of a balanced diet for children under school age because of their nutritional benefits. It is possible for the acceptable daily intake (ADI) of nitrates to be exceeded in the case of a small percentage of children under school age. However, it is generally considered that the nutrition benefits of eating vegetables exceed any disadvantages that may be caused by nitrates. Children under school age should be given a variety of vegetables. A one-sided use of vegetables naturally rich in nitrates is not recommended.
The new recommendations are based on a new risk assessment conducted by Evira concerning the exposure of children and adults to nitrates and nitrites and on recommendations issued by the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health in 2004. High levels of nitrates and nitrites may inhibit oxygen transfer in the body. Exposure to nitrites is also suspected of elevating the risk of diabetes, coronary disease and cancer, but the research findings so far have been contradictory, and no causal link has been proven. Occasional high levels are not a problem, while repeated abundant use is.
In the risk assessment conducted by Evira, the risk was assessed on the basis of acceptable daily intake (ADI), regarding the values of which there is a general scientific consensus. The safety and ADI of nitrates and nitrites used as food additives will be re-evaluated in the EU by the end of 2015.
Evira´s press release 13.12.2013: Occasional excess of nitrite from foods
Read the report: Kvantitatiivinen riskinarviointi lasten ja aikuisten altistumisesta nitraatille ja nitriitille [Quantitative risk assessment of exposure to nitrates and nitrites of children and adults] (PDF, Description in English)
Kirsi-Helena Kanninen D.Sc.(Tech.), Senior Inspector (Recommendation for use of sausages and cold cuts), tel. +358 40 489 3346 (available from 13.00 on 13 Dec 2013)
Marika Jestoi PhD, Senior Inspector (Nitrate levels in vegetables), tel. +358 40 487 7798 (available from 13.00 on 13 Dec 2013)