“Uncured” and Nitrites

Here’s an article from Applegate Farms about the confusion surrounding the terms “uncured” and “no nitrites” on packages of luncheon meats and hot dogs. http://www.applegatefarms.com/inthenews/response.aspx

The take aways for me:

  • Naturally preserved lunch meats/hot dogs (those labeled “uncured” or “no nitrites”) ARE cured (often with celery juice or powder), and DO have nitrites, sometimes in greater amounts than their conventional counterparts. In other words, they are are “safe” from spoilage as the others, but if you thought you were not eating nitrites, think again.
  • Some people think a nitrite is the same as any other nitrite, but Applegate describes the difference between the synthetic and natural nitrites in this way:
    “Synthetic sodium nitrite is created by the absorption of nitrogen oxides (derived from ammonia compounds) in a liquid solution of either sodium carbonate or sodium hydroxide.  The resulting slurry is dried and pink dye is added to distinguish it from table salt.  According to the Food Chemical Codex (3rd addition, National Academy of Sciences), industrial sodium nitrite is allowed to contain residual heavy metals, arsenic and lead. While some may say, “nitrites are nitrites,” those derived from celery juice and sea salt are clearly different, and the USDA agrees, hence the different labeling requirements for products cured this way.”
  • TheFDA has to date not allowed the natural meat industry to clarify the actual ingredients/process on their packaging.

For my part, I feel far more comfortable feeding my family what is naturally occurring in celery, than a synthetic version with residual heavy metals of arsenic and lead.

3 thoughts on ““Uncured” and Nitrites

  1. If the FDA has not taken the lead to step in to label and identify properly the use of synthetic nitrates vs natural nitrate process…how will I know as a consumer which products have used the natural version? As much as I try to buy organic, it is so expensive and not widely available.

  2. You make a good point, Maria; the FDA isn’t protecting our food supply in a way most of us assume it is. And full disclosure isn’t really on every package. We each have to dig (mostly on the internet!) for that information.

    As far as synthetic nitrites in meat vs. organic: there are some companies which are now offering “uncured” meats in their conventional (non-organic) lines. Oscar Meyer is one where you can buy hot dogs made with celery juice (which contains the natural nitrites, as discussed above). The meat itself is not “naturally or organically raised” but the curing process is natural. I have bought these a few times, when coupons made them super cheap and I had potlucks to attend where no one else cared and I couldn’t afford the organic ones for everyone.

    However, I prefer to purchase hot dogs made with organic grass fed beef (it’s so much healthier for us!), as well as a natural curing process. In another post, I show the hot dogs we’ve been getting this summer: Applegate farms, from Trader Joes, for just under $5 a package (more elsewhere), which is a comparable price to (non sale) conventional hot dogs.

    As for organic being expensive: yes I agree with you. In general, it is more expensive, although there are ways to save in organic too. You’ve inspired me to blog on this topic, so check the homepage for the post with my top recommendations!


  3. This is new to me I have never really taken a close look at lunch meat before except to make sure it wasn’t fatty. Now I have high cholesterol and am looking and the lunch meats are full of cholesterol and other things that are not good for you. Even the ones that seem like they would be good like oven roasted turkey thin sliced, has cholesterol and nitrites. The labeling is confusing because they can basically put something bad in their product but label it as good. Apparently the only way to get a good for you turkey is to get the roasted ones at the store or roast it myself.

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