September 27, 2023

Athens News

News in English from Greece

EFET: nitrosamines are carcinogenic and genotoxic

EFET draws the attention of consumers to the health risks associated with nitrosamines, compounds that can form in foods during preparation and processing.

According to the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), ten nitrosamines (sodium nitrate) found in food are carcinogenic and genotoxic – they can damage DNA. According to the relevant EFET statement, EFSA has conducted its assessment of the potential harm caused by nitrosamines to humans and animals, as well as consumer impact assessment.

“We came to the conclusion that for all age groups of the population EU the level of exposure to nitrosamines in food products is of concern in terms of the negative impact on health, said expert Dr. Dieter Schrenk, Chairman of the Committee on Contaminants in the Food Chain. “Based on animal studies, we considered the occurrence of liver tumors in rodents to be the most important predictor of risk.”

“In order to ensure a high level of consumer protection, we have created a worst-case risk assessment. We hypothesized that all nitrosamines found in food have the same potential to cause cancer in humans as the most dangerous nitrosamine, although this is unlikely.”

Nitrosamines have been found in a variety of foods including jerky, processed fish, cocoa, beer and other alcoholic beverages. The most important food group contributing to their effects is meat and meat products (sausages, sausages, etc.).

Harmful compounds can also be found in other foods, including processed vegetables, grains, milk and dairy products or fermented foods, pickles and condiments.

sodium nitrate used as an antioxidant and to prevent the growth of clostridia, including the causative agent of botulism. To avoid negative consequences, experts recommend not to eat (much less often) processed products.

In the study of food products, nitrosamines were identified in smoked, dry and salami sausages, fried bacon, ham, smoked herring, cheese, milk, flour, wheat, mushrooms. According to the frequency of their detection, fish products, meat products, malt and beer can be ranked first (up to 100%); in dairy products, drinks, juices, plant products, it reaches 71-81%.

When analyzing pork products, the largest amount was found in the loin, especially raw smoked, hams and cracklings. We emphasize the importance of proper culinary processing of products.. So, frying bacon with nitrite salting significantly increases the concentration of nitrosamines in it.


Depending on the level of intake of nitrates in the body and the duration of exposure, one can speak of acute or chronic poisoning. More often it is observed in people suffering from diseases of the gastrointestinal tract and respiratory system.

Possible toxic effects from the action of increased amounts of nitrates and nitrites: impaired function of enzyme systems and digestion; negative impact on the central nervous system, metabolism, endocrine glands and cardiovascular system; immunological disorders; embryotoxic action.

Under the influence of intestinal microflora nitrates are reduced in the body to nitriteswhich adversely affect blood hemoglobincontributing to the development of methemoglobinemia. In the occurrence of chronic nitrate-nitrite methemoglobinemia, in addition to sausages and smoked meats, many plant products play an important role. So, the increased content of nitrites in some plants (for example, in spinach) can cause methemoglobinemia in children.

Nitrosamines have a variety of negative effects on the human body, mainly affecting the liver and contributing to the development of malignant tumors.

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