CSPI & Consumer Reports Petition to USDA on “Uncured” and “No Nitrate or Nitrite Added” Claims
USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) is responsible for monitoring the proper use and labeling of nitrates/nitrites by meat processors. Nitrate and/or nitrites have been historically used as synthetic curing agents to preserve fresh cut meats such as bacon. Meats are now more frequently prepared using celery powder and other non-synthetic sources of nitrates and nitrites which can produce similar antimicrobial properties, taste, and appearance to synthetic nitrates and nitrites. Nitrosamines are formed as a reaction from the use of nitrates/nitrites in meat which has been shown to be carcinogenic in animal studies.
For new processed meats that do not use synthetic nitrates/nitrites, FSIS requires the label to bear the term “Uncured” and the statement: “Uncured Bacon, No Nitrates or Nitrites Added” with the qualifier, “except for those naturally occurring in [name of ingredient that is source of nitrates/nitrites].”
In an August 29, 2019 petition submitted to FSIS, the Center for Science in the Public Interest and Consumer Report (the Petitioners) called on the Agency to stop requiring the terms “Uncured” and “No Nitrate or Nitrite Added” on labels for meat processed with nitrates or nitrites from non-synthetic sources, such as celery powder. The Petitioners cite recent tests that showed that nitrates and nitrites are found in processed meats labeled “Uncured” or “No Nitrates or Nitrites Added” at similar levels to those prepared with synthetic curing agents. As such, the Petitioners argue that those labels are misleading consumers to think meats with those claims are healthier and request that FSIS revise its rules so that the “Uncured” and “No Nitrate or Nitrite Added” claims can only be made on meats prepared with no nitrates or nitrites from any source. Additionally, the Petitioners request that all products processed using nitrates/nitrites bear the disclosure “Nitrates or nitrites added.”