Nitrite plays a major role in the botulinal safety of cured meat products. When used at appropriate levels, it retards Clostridium botulinum growth and delays production of its deadly neurotoxin. Even though the incidence of botulinal spores in meat is very low, factors such as the tonnage of cured meats consumed, the potential for mishandling such products, and the nature of the disease necessitate the use of nitrite or other equally effective compound(s) for extra safety. Residual nitrite and nitrosamine levels in cured meat products have been decreasing in recent years through control and research conducted by the meat industry and related institutions. Such levels are minimal compared to total nitrate and nitrite amounts ingested or formed in the human body. Sorbate, especially in combination with nitrite at concentrations adequate only for cured meat color and flavor development, is at least as effective as currently used nitrite levels in delaying C. botulinum growth and toxin production. The mechanism(s) through which nitrite and/or sorbate perform their actions upon C. botulinum remains to be found. A review of the pertinent research completed to date should be helpful in the search for the mechanism(s).

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Author notes

1Paper No. 10.634, Scientific Journal Series, Minnesota Agricultural Experiment Station, St. Paul, MN 55108.

2Department of Food Science and Nutrition.

3Department of Animal Science.