Consumer exposure to nitrosamines, compounds that can form in foods during their preparation and processing, “raises health concerns.” The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) writes in a note in support of the new scientific opinion on consumer exposure to the ten carcinogenic nitrosamines found in food. Excessive and prolonged consumption of nitrites is associated, according to studies, with an increased risk of stomach and oesophageal cancers.
In general, nitrosamines can be formed from nitrites, and the food group that most contributes to exposure to these substances is meat products. In general, nitrosamines can form in cured meats, processed fish, cheese, soy sauce, oils, processed vegetables, and even breast milk. “A balanced diet with the widest possible variety of foods – recommends EFSA – could help consumers reduce their intake of nitrosamines”.
The risk assessment conducted by EFSA, it is specified, is excessive. “For our risk assessment we proposed the worst case scenario – says Dieter Schrenk, who led the group of expert authors of the opinion – that is, we assumed that all nitrosamines present in food had the same potential to cause cancer in humans as the more harmful nitrosamine, although this is unlikely.”
Applying this method, the conclusion “is that for all age groups of the EU population, the level of exposure to nitrosamines in food is of concern for health“. The EFSA report will be sent to the European Commission which will discuss possible legislative initiatives with the Member States. On 12 October, EFSA had already signaled with an initial opinion that it was “very probable” that European consumers would take nitrosamines from food above the safe level. Nitrosamines had been found in cured meats, processed fish, cocoa, beer and other alcoholic beverages, cooked meat, processed vegetables, grains, milk and dairy products, or fermented, pickled and spiced foods. Some nitrosamines are genotoxic (which can damage the genetic information in DNA) and carcinogenic.