Sodium Nitrite: The Facts

The purpose of this fact sheet is to educate our Butterball Consumers and Customers about the fundamental role of nitrite in biology in order to address unfounded fears and concerns about the addition of sodium nitrite to some of our turkey products.


Why is sodium nitrite used in some Butterball products?

Sodium nitrite is a special kind of salt that is used in making cured meat and poultry products. Curing is a flavouring process that gives meats like bacon, ham and hot dogs their characteristic colour and flavour. Butterball Bacon Style Turkey, Butterball Franks, Butterball Turkey Bacon-Rasher, and a small number of similar products are formulated with sodium nitrite for this effect.

Sodium nitrite also has a food preservation effect. It blocks the growth of dangerous bacteria that can cause illness. It extends shelf life and storage stability of highly perishable foods including meat, fish and vegetables.


Are cured meats the major source of sodium nitrite in the human diet?

The short answer is no.

Various fresh foods naturally contain nitrite:     

Can cured meats be produced without sodium nitrite?

Again, the short answer is no.

Cured meats by Health Canada’s definition must include sodium nitrite. Sodium nitrite is the very ingredient that gives a product like bacon its colour and taste. Its shelf life would be shortened substantially.

Some products are available today that use ingredients like beet or celery extract to deliver a colour and flavour similar to traditional cured meats. Beets and celery contain nitrite naturally, which results in product characteristics similar to traditionally cured meat products. The amount of nitrite consumed from these types of products versus traditionally cured meat products is the same.


Is sodium nitrite safe?

Numerous scientific panels including Health Canada, have evaluated sodium nitrite safety and the conclusions have been the same – sodium nitrite is safe at the levels used. Sodium nitrite occurs naturally in nature and is present in many fresh foods. Curing with nitrite has a proven track record, for thousands of years in producing safe and nutritious food products. The curing process for meats is derived from preservation methods with salt as early as 3,000 B.C.


Butterball Consumers should consume – and enjoy – our nitrite-containing cured meat products with confidence.


BLT turkey burger served in a white tray.
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