Sodium nitrite is an inorganic compound with the chemical formula NaNO2.
While it is naturally present in many fruits and vegetables, sodium nitrite is commonly used as a preservative in processed meats and fish because of its ability to inhibit the growth of disease-causing micro-organisms, give taste and colour to the meat, and inhibit lipid oxidation that leads to rancidity. In the European Union it may be used only as a mixture with salt containing at most 0.0625% sodium nitrite and has the E number E250.
Is It Safe?
A principal concern about sodium nitrite is the formation of carcinogenic nitrosamines in meats containing sodium nitrite when meat is charred or overcooked. Such carcinogenic nitrosamines can also be formed from the reaction of nitrite with secondary amines under acidic conditions (such as occurs in the human stomach) as well as during the curing process used to preserve meats.
Sodium nitrite consumption has also been linked to the triggering of migraines in individuals who already suffer from them.