The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has stated that a new study has detected nitrosamines, cancer-causing chemicals, in various animal-based foods, which could pose a health risk to consumers. The ten nitrosamines detected, which are carcinogenic but also can damage DNA, have been detected mostly in cured meat, processed fish, cocoa, beer and other alcoholic drinks. Nitrosamines may also be present in lower quantities in processed vegetables, cereals, milk and dairy products, or fermented, pickled and spiced foods.
Dr Dieter Schrenk, chair of the EFSA’s panel on contaminants in the food chain, said: “Our assessment concludes that for all age groups across the EU population, the level of exposure to nitrosamines in food raises a health concern. Based on animal studies, we considered the incidence of liver tumours in rodents as the most critical health effect… To ensure a high level of consumer protection, we created a worst-case scenario for our risk assessment. We assumed that all nitrosamines found in food had the same potential to cause cancer in humans as the most harmful nitrosamine, although that is unlikely.”
Dr Schrenk said the “most important food group” contributing to nitrosamine exposure is meat and meat products. However, the EFSA is not directly recommending that people should not eat these food products, but that is best to eat a balanced diet with a wide variety of foods — which will not make sense if meat products are the ones which contain more nitrosamines, so avoiding them all together would be the best way to reduce the risk. Now the EFSA’s opinion will be shared with the European Commission, which will discuss with national authorities what risk management measures will be implemented.