Sodium Nitrite – is it really as bad for me??

Sodium Nitrite is probably one of the most mis-understood ingredients in food processing today. Lucky Brand Jerky produces “All Natural” Jerky by USDA definition, with the exception of 2 sku’s – Patriot Jerky and Survivor Jerky which use traditional sodium nitrite. That said, we do use nitrites in our “All Natural” Beef Snack Sticks to allow them to be shelf stable with a fairly high ~.87 aW (water activity). Our Beef Snack Sticks utilize nitrates that are naturally occurring in Celery Juice. They are chemically the same as man made Sodium Nitrite, but they are from a plant which allows us to maintain our “All Natural” status. Please check into other manufacturers and don’t be afraid to ask this question until you have an answer to your satisfaction. Nitrites are a very, very important part of the food safety equation, but ultimately, it’s up to you the consumer what you put in your body.

Sodium Nitrite was first approved as a cure to be used in meats in 1925. Since that time it has been so successful, that many have wondered why we are even using it anymore. Sodium Nitrite is a salt and an anti-oxidant (prevents things from oxidizing) on a large scale, sodium nitrate serves a very important public health role as it blocks the growth of botulism causing bacteria and prevents food spoilage. Sodium Nitrite also aids greatly in preventing the growth of Listeria and adds a unique and very tasty flavor to the meats which it is used to cure…ham & bacon are prime examples.

Most people associate sodium nitrite with meat products, and while sodium nitrite is widely used in meat products, it can also be found in a large number of vegetables as well. In fact, almost 93% of sodium nitrite that we consume comes from leafy vegetables & tubers. Did you know that spinach contains on average 1200ppm of sodium nitrate? Radishes contain 1500 – 1800ppm and lettuce can contain from 600 – 1700ppm. For comparison bacon is injected with no more than 156ppm sodium nitrite, by USDA regulation, and the remaining sodium nitrite in the finished product is generally less than 10ppm. Vegetables contain large amounts of sodium nitrate which turns into sodium nitrite when it comes into contact with saliva in the mouth. Less than 5% of sodium nitrite intake comes from cured meats like bacon, ham, or shaved beef, pastrami, hot dogs, sausages, etc, etc.

When you hear the term, “Cured Meat” that, by definition means that the meat has been “cured” with sodium nitrite. Sodium nitrite is what gives products like cured ham it’s color and taste. Sodium Nitrate also gives products a much longer shelf life. So what about cured meats that say they don’t contain sodium nitrite? Well, back to the vegetables. Celery Juice is commonly used as a cure because it contains sodium nitrate naturally, which when used as a meat cure, delivers a color and flavor similar to traditionally cured meats. The sodium nitrate in the vegetable based compound reacts with certain bacteria in the meat to convert into sodium nitrite and cures it in a similar manner to the traditional method with very similar results and chemistry.

Does sodium nitrate cause cancer…or cause hardening of the arteries?? Numerous scientific panels have evaluated sodium nitrite safety and determined that given sodium nitrite’s track record in preventing botulism that it is not only safe, it is essential to maintaining public health. In fact, The National Toxicology Program, an agency within the Department of Health and Human Services, conducted a multi-year to evaluate sodium nitrate’s safety when used to help preserve foods. They found sodium nitrate to be completely safe at the levels which it is commonly used today. Believe it or not, sodium nitrate is actually being used to help cure vascular problems, and used in treating heart attacks and organ transplants.

While we do not use Sodium Nitrite directly in most of our products – only in Patriot Jerky, Survivor Jerky and Celery Juice Powder in our Beef Snack Sticks – we are confident that when we use sodium nitrite or it’s vegetable based equivalent, that we are making the best possible jerky products that are 100% safe, healthy and wholesome for the whole family. So what about Lucky Brand Jerky Slab Style?? Well, we’ve eliminated nitrites all together in that product and we achieve shelf stability by reducing our active water to around .80 aW then using a very high quality package to store the jerky. It is important to Lucky Brand Jerky that we produce products that give our customers a choice. Regardless of customer preference, it is our absolute mission to insure that any of these choices can be not only consumed with confidence, but enjoyed each and every time a customer opens their favorite package of Lucky Brand Jerky.