EUROPE –  The European Commission has announced new, significantly reduced limits on the use of nitrites and nitrates as food additives.

These stricter limits, endorsed by EU member states following a rigorous scientific assessment by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), aim to protect consumers against pathogenic bacteria, including Listeria, Salmonella, and Clostridium botulinum.

Moreover, the reduced exposure to nitrosamines, some of which are carcinogenic, is a key focus of these regulations.

Commissioner Stella Kyriakides, responsible for Health and Food Safety, emphasized the importance of these regulations in safeguarding public health.

“By setting new limits for nitrites and nitrates additives in food, we are taking another step in this direction and delivering on another important action under Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan,” she stated.

Kyriakides called upon the food industry to swiftly implement these science-based rules, encouraging further reduction efforts where possible.

Nitrites and nitrates are commonly used in delicatessen and processed meat, fish, cheese, and other products due to their antimicrobial properties.

These substances serve as preservatives, enhancing the color and extending the shelf life of processed meats.

However, their potential to form nitrosamines, which are linked to cancer, necessitates stringent regulations to minimize health risks.

With a few exceptions, the average amount of nitrites added to non-sterilized beef products was found to be less than the maximum level set by the EU, according to a 2014 study conducted by the European Commission.

In 2016, more research involving various meat products and the business came to the conclusion that the maximum levels of nitrites might be lowered.

Some organizations, like Foodwatch France, have demanded a ban on the addition of nitrites and nitrates to food. The European Parliament’s Committee on the Environment, Public Health, and Food Safety (ENVI) also considered a motion earlier this year.

A new study that was published in the peer-reviewed weekly medical journal PLOS Medicine also attributed the increase in the risk of type 2 diabetes in France to the use of nitrites and nitrates.

Last year, following a risk assessment by the French Agency for Food which linked nitrites to cancer, Environmental and Occupational Health & Safety (Anses), France set out to ban its use in food.

The new limits take into account the diversity of products and manufacturing conditions across Europe.

Food businesses now have a two-year window to adapt to these regulations, which will impact various food categories, including ripened cheese, meat preparations, non-heat-treated meat, processed fish, and more.

The updated regulations specify reduced limits for nitrites (E 249 and E 250) and nitrates (E 251 and E 252) in several food categories.

These measures will not only enhance consumer safety but also challenge the industry and smaller producers to address the presence of nitrites and nitrates in foods across the EU.

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