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E250: You may have seen this code on deli packaging before. Few consumers know it, but it actually refers to nitrites. These additives are used to extend the shelf life of foods and prevent oxidation.

Nitrites give ham its pink color

But, according to Camille Dorioz, campaign manager at Foodwatch, nitrites above all have a “marketing” advantage. “This will allow, and this is very important for manufacturers, to keep the pink color of ham. Normally white ham, if there are no nitrites, will be rather gray. ”

For several years, the NGO Foodwatch has denounced the presence of nitrites in charcuterie. They would indeed be dangerous for health. Océane Martin, biology researcher at INSERM, explains: “nitrites by themselves are not carcinogenic. It is found in the environment. For example, in fruits and vegetables, which are rather associates to a protective role of cancer. It is the combination of cold meats and nitrites that will promote the formation of toxic compounds ”.

Deli meats, a “proven carcinogen” according to the WHO

The World Health Organization (WHO) classifies cold meats as proven carcinogens and recommends not consuming more than 150 grams per week. It could promote the appearance of certain cancers. According to Prof. Axel Kahn, president of the League against Cancer, “There are around 4000 deaths each year between colorectal cancers and gastric cancers which are linked to the consumption of cold meats. In fact, pork is a fairly white meat. It should not be very carcinogenic since the carcinogenicity of meat is linked to its red color. But, cold cuts are definitely more carcinogenic than roast beef. This is undoubtedly linked to the treatment with nitrates and nitrites ”.

For their part, manufacturers, supporters of nitrites, believe that their ban could lead to a resurgence of cases of botulism. This is a serious neurological condition caused by bacteria that thrive in poorly stored food. False answer the associations. Alternatives would achieve the same results.