Nitrates not on the label in Australia and NZ: another hidden additive

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Nitrates and nitrites, used in cured meats like ham and bacon, can cause a wide range of symptoms like headaches, stutter, eczema, mania and depression.

How many ways can I legally add nitrates and nitrites?

One word (4 ways)

249, 250, 251, 252

Two words (10 ways)

potassium nitrite, sodium nitrite, sodium nitrate, potassium nitrate, celery powder, celery salt, vegetable extract, beetroot powder, fruit extract, grape extract


It is important to recognise that nitrate is ubiquitous in foods in varying levels and is in fact a useful nutrient. It is when it is used in meats or in unregulated amounts that the risk to health increases.

As readers have told us:

I put up with dreadful headaches every day for about 15 years, along with muscle cramps in my neck & shoulders … I have proven it was nitrates in ham and bacon that were giving me the problem – from story [956]

We removed all nitrates from our son's diet and within about a week the stuttering was gone… it returned full-force today…  what he had eaten yesterday? … a HOTDOG – from story [396]

My 4 yo son used to wake up sobbing with pain in his legs… The doctor said it was just growing pains …  We found that he only gets these pains if he has been eating ham and devon (with nitrate/nitrite preservatives) – from story [857]

  …how to rid my 9yr old daughter’s headaches that she has had nearly every Thursday all year? (Answer: the school canteen sold hotdogs only on Wednesdays. When the hotdogs stopped, the headaches stopped)  from story [856]

So in January 2021 we asked the Australia and New Zealand food regulator FSANZ what action they intended as a result of the USDA now requiring labelling of nitrates no matter what the source, as reported below.


USDA flags crackdown on “no nitrate” claims

In a 10 December 2020 letter the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced its plan to prohibit the statements “no nitrate" or "no nitrate added” and “uncured” in relation to meat products in some instances.

According to the USDA, it will prohibit these claims in all instances where a product is made using any source of nitrates or nitrites. Previously, it had permitted such claims where “natural” sources of nitrates such as celery salt were used in production. The USDA also plans to classify non-synthetic sources of nitrates and nitrites as curing agents.


The unsigned FSANZ response below, received March 2021 said, as so many times before, please talk to consumer protection, even though the Food Standards Act prioritises consumers in the Objectives

 (a)  a high degree of consumer confidence in the quality and safety of food produced, processed, sold or exported from Australia and New Zealand;

 (c)  the provision of adequate information relating to food to enable consumers to make informed choices

Referring such issues to the Australian Competition & Consumer Commission (ACCC) has in the past resulted in the issue being referred back to FSANZ and back again......why would we bother trying?

More buck passing, more hidden additives in our food due to government inaction.

Nitrate/nitrite preservatives 249-252


Of the 14 ways in which nitrate/nitrite preservatives can be added to food,
only 8 are regulated and must appear as additives. The rest are hidden and so unregulated.


CLAIM:
if the label on ham or bacon says “No added nitrates/nitrites” then it almost certainly DOES contain added nitrates, usually in the form of a celery extract.

Watch out for “100% or all natural”, that is a warning to read the Ingredients Panel closely. Organic products can also contain this hidden additive.

INGREDIENTS TO LOOK FOR:

celery powder / vegetable extract / beetroot powder / fruit extract / grape extract

EXAMPLES:

BLOGnitrate01a  BLOGnitrate02a

BLOGnitrate03a

The response from FSANZ

Dear Dr Dengate,       

Thank you for your enquiry regarding “no nitrate", "no nitrate added” or “uncured” labelling on food products in the United States, and for bringing this information to FSANZ’s attention.

The Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code (the Code) allows nitrates, code numbers 251 (Sodium nitrate) and 252 (Potassium nitrate), to be added to a small range of food classes in Schedule 15 of the Code. When added the labelling may indicate it’s presence either by the food additive code number or food additive name, under Standard 1.2.4—7 Declaration of substances used as food additives.

The nature of the issue you have raised is one of food manufacturers potentially misleading the consumer by claiming a food is free of nitrates, where in fact nitrates have been added, but from a source other than a recognised food additive. The Code contains many claims for which there are prescriptive requirements, however, there is no claim in the Code that deals with this issue, meaning that it would be covered by normal consumer law in Australia and New Zealand. That is, if it were an issue in Australia and New Zealand.

You could refer your enquiry in the first instance to either the Australian Competition & Consumer Commission (ACCC) in Australia, or in New Zealand, The Commerce Commission who administer the Australian Consumer Law and Commerce Act respectively. They deal with food related issues, such as unsubstantiated representations including representations about organic and free range, or place of origin etc.

Finally FSANZ does not believe there is an issue with the current requirements for nitrate permissions due to the Code requirements and additional legislation around misleading representations. Therefore it does not propose to make amendments to the Code comparable to those done by the US.


More information


Nitrates, nitrites and nitrosamines factsheet

Nitrates used in cured meats can cause a wide range of symptoms like headaches, stutter, eczema, mania and depression - see blog

Additives in meat linked to mania and bipolar disorder: it’s official - see blog

Nitrites do not protect against botulism - see blog

Why nitrates and nitrites in processed meats are harmful – but those in vegetables aren’t

Nitrate and nitrite content of various fruit and vegetables https://academic.oup.com/ajcn/article/90/1/1/4596750

Nitrate in foods: harmful or healthy? Martijn B Katan (2009). The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Volume 90, Issue 1, July 2009, Pages 11–12, https://doi.org/10.3945/ajcn.2009.28014 https://academic.oup.com/ajcn/article/90/1/11/4596779

Food Intolerance Network views on the outdated Food Standards Act

Introduction to food intolerance

thanks to Food Intolerance Network members Heather, Kylie, Ruth and Anne-Marie for photos