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EFSA confirms current exposure levels of food nitrites and nitrates are safe

FBR Staff Writer Published 19 June 2017

The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has confirmed that the amount of nitrites and nitrates used to meat and other foods as additives are within safe limits for consumers.

Following a re-evaluation of their safety, EFSA stated that for all population groups, the nitrites and nitrates levels are sufficiently protective although they slightly exceed the limits when it comes to children who consume more of foods containing the additives in question.

The agency however stated that when all dietary sources of nitrites and nitrates are considered, then for all age groups, the safe levels of acceptable daily intakes (ADIs) may be surpassed.

It adds that 3.7mg/kg bw/day is the current acceptable daily intake (ADI) for nitrates, and for nitrites the safe level has been re-established at 0.07 mg/kg bw/day.

EFSA Food Additives and Nutrient Sources Added to Food Panel member Prof Maged Younes said: “After looking at all available evidence we concluded that nitrites and nitrates added to food at permitted levels are safe for consumers in Europe. However, there are still some knowledge gaps to be filled by future research.

“In particular, further studies would be useful on nitrate-nitrite conversion in human saliva and the resulting methaemoglobin formation, on nitrosamine formation in food products to which nitrites have been added, as well as on additional epidemiological evidence in humans.”

Younes is also the Chair of the Working Group tasked with the re-evaluation task.

Experts estimated that consumer exposure to nitrate was less than 5% and within safe levels when food additives alone are considered. This, EFSA says after carrying out a refined exposure assessment comparing the nitrate exposure caused by food additives against the overall nitrate exposure from food.

For highly exposed children to nitrites used as food additives, the safe levels slightly surpass the ADI, said EFSA which otherwise is not the case for most population groups.

According to the agency, for infants, toddlers and children with medium exposure and for highly exposed individuals of all age groups with such foods, the exposure from all dietary sources may cross the ADI.

Image: EFSA says nitrites and nitrates added to food are within safe levels. Photo: courtesy of European Food Safety Authority.