The European Commission has set significantly stricter limits for the use of nitrites and nitrates as food additives to reduce consumer exposure to nitrosamines, some of which are carcinogenic, while still protecting against foodborne pathogens. EU food business operators have two years to adapt to the new limits.
The new limits are outlined in an extensive document amending annexes to Commission Regulation (EU) 1333/2008 of the European Parliament and Council, and to Commission Regulation (EU) 231/2012 regarding nitrites (E 249-250) and nitrates (E 251-252).
Based on a stringent scientific assessment by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), the limits were endorsed unanimously by EU Member States in spring 2023. Based on animal studies, EFSA considered the incidence of liver tumors in rodents exposed to nitrosamines as the most critical health effect of nitrosamine exposure.
The limits take into account the diversity of products and their manufacturing conditions across the EU. Nitrosamines can be found in cured meat products, processed fish, cocoa, and beer and other alcoholic beverages, processed vegetables, cereals, milk and dairy products, and fermented, pickled, and spiced foods.