Nitrates & Nitrites FAQs

February 15, 2018

What are our products made from?
All our products are made using high welfare, British outdoor bred pork. We then add salt, natural herbs and spices to create a delicious range of air-dried hams and salamis. In addition to these ingredients, our hams and salamis also use curing salts, and we add a starter culture to our salamis.

What is a starter culture?
We use a starter culture for our salamis. This introduces a selection of natural 'good' bacteria to the seasoned meat. The starter culture reduces the pH of the meat which stops 'bad' bacteria growing, giving us a product which is safe to eat at the end of the curing and drying process.

What are curing salts?
We use curing salts during the initial stage of our air-dried hams and our large calibre salamis. Curing salts are made using salt and approximately 0.4% nitrite. We add these at the beginning of our process to assist with product colour and preservation during the maturation process. The curing salts also aid the drying process, removing moisture from the product which stops 'bad' bacteria growing.

What is the difference between nitrates and nitrites?
Nitrate (NO3) is inactive but is converted by chemical and bacterial action to nitrite (NO2). The rate of the change of nitrate to nitrite is dependent on time, temperature and level of bacteria.

Nitrite is the compound that directly cures the meat, making it pink in colour. NO2 is absorbed into the meat when salt is added which draws the moisture out and allows the nitrite to become dissolved into the moisture allowing deep penetration into the meat.

Where else do you find nitrates and nitrites?
The majority of our nitrate exposure comes from sources within our bodies, not from the foods we eat. Even when you look at food, we consume around 80% of our nitrate intake from vegetables.  

Are nitrates or nitrites harmful?
No, not in the amounts that our products contain. There are legal ingoing limits of NO3 and NO2 and legal residual limits of these compounds permitted at point of sale, depending on the product type and its process. Levels are higher at the start of the process but as the chemistry conversions take place both levels reduce, making the product safe to consume.

Is it true they can cause cancer?
No. Recent scare mongering claims in the press have since been reviewed. In 2015, the World Health Organisation (WHO) released a report claiming that just 50g of processed meats a day - like sausages, bacon and salami - increases the risk of bowel cancer. Since then, WHO have retracted this statement and subsequent research has found no link between the two. In fact, there are a number of benefits to nitrites including strengthening the immune system and lower blood pressure.

Are there alternative curing methods?
Our traditional methods have been passed through 8 generations of the Woodall family, although there are alternative methods being using today. The most common is using celery powder, which we use for our snacking salami. This is used instead of adding nitrite as an ingredient, however due to the high levels of nitrates found in vegetables, this doesn't strictly make products nitrite free. Nitrites are needed to cure the meat and for food safety.

Are there any articles that are particularly useful on this topic?
Yes, there is a great range of information online, make a start with the links below...

Food sources of nitrates and nitrites: the physiologic context for potential health benefits (Hord et al., 2009)

Nitrites: one reason our food is safe and bacon is tasty (Farr, 2017)

Nitrate in foods: harmful or healthy? (Katan, 2009)