Nitrosamines, organic compounds that form in food and were unknown to a large part of the population until recently, have made multiple headlines in recent days. And not for a good thing. The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has published a scientific evaluation of these substances present in meat or cocoa, and has concluded that they pose a health problem.
In total, this agency dependent on the EU has identified ten nitrosamines present in food that are carcinogenic and genotoxic, that is, they can damage DNA. The evaluation was carried out analyzing the possible danger that it can pose to the health of humans and animals, evaluating the exposure of consumers, the document indicates.
Nitrosamines are present in various foods, such as cured meat products, processed fish, cocoa, beer and other alcoholic beverages, processed vegetables, grains, or milk and milk products. But the body warns that both meat and meat products are the foods that expose us the most to these toxic substances.
The level of exposure to nitrosamines in food can pose a health concern "for all age groups of the EU population," warned Dieter Schrenk, chair of the Panel on Contaminants in the Food Chain, in the assessment Posted on March 28.
And he added that based on animal studies, "we consider the incidence of liver tumors in rodents to be the most harmful effect on health." EFSA has come to this conclusion after developing the worst case scenario, assuming that these compounds in food had the same cancer-causing potential as the more harmful nitrosamine, which is unlikely. This has been done "to ensure a high level of consumer protection".
At present there is not enough data available to pinpoint all food groups that have nitrosamines. So the solution is not to stop eating the products you know have them, but to follow a varied and balanced diet.
This finding should not be understood as a food alert, since the evaluation has yet to be shared with the European Commission, which will discuss with the national authorities what risk management measures are necessary.
Nitrosamines are produced from nitrates naturally present in food or from nitrates and nitrites used as additives, points out the Organization of Consumers and Users (OCU) in another report, which agrees that following a varied diet is the best way to avoid risks.
Nitrates, they continue to explain, are also used as food additives to extend the life of food and guarantee hygiene, "and they can react with the amino acids present in the stomach, giving rise to the formation of nitrosamines."
The OCU insists that the level of nitrates can be reduced without harming the useful life of the products. "That is why we urge the authorities to reduce the permitted levels of these additives downward."
At the moment, EFSA has pointed out the aspects that remain to be studied of these substances, such as collecting information on nitrosamines in processed foods other than processed meats or collecting data on human milk to allow the evaluation of exposure in infants.