Let’s not solve one problem in bacon by creating another

Terry JonesAhead of the forthcoming negotiations in Brussels on the use of nitrites in meat products, discussions between the FSA and industry are in full swing.

At PTF we’re currently wading through a long list of questions about our members’ use of nitrites and how we might cope if the rules were changed.

But why are we even talking about this? The answer can be found across the North Sea where the Danes have set lower limits for nitrite use, believing that it will improve public health.

In turn the Commission, inspired by this unilateral policy development and seemingly choosing to ignore the results of their own study into the issue last year, have decided that the possibility of reviewing the current maximum levels of nitrites should be explored.

In the UK we’re quite good at developing our own policy priorities too. With our own set of public health concerns we’ve been leading the way on salt reduction. The trouble is we really don’t know what the impacts will be if we reduce both nitrite levels and salt levels in preserved products such as bacon. Although we can make an informed guess.

The FSA’s research in 2005 states that the safety of cured meats is a complex, multi component system which depends on the interaction of salt, nitrite, pH, phosphates, ascorbate and other added microbial agents.

If you change one of these variables then it’s not unreasonable to assume you could have a problem on your hands. Reducing nitrite levels could impact food safety, increase wastage and diminish consumer enjoyment.

So the message to the Commission is simple. Of course as an industry we’re not blind to the concerns about the use of nitrites in meat products but at the same time bacon is a speciality product which UK and Irish consumers have very clear expectations of.
Secondly, please do a proper risk assessment of the impact on food safety where nitrite levels are reduced in combination with salt reduction.

And last, but by no means least, in pursuit of harmonised legislation let’s stop developing policy in isolation and increasing the risk of solving one problem in this much loved product only to create another.

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