OSCII Activity E.52

Alternative approaches to direct addition of nitrite/nitrate for organic cured meats

Activity summary

Cured processed meats contain nitrite and nitrate with salt and other ingredients, but it is the addition of nitrite/nitrate that imparts the distinctive characteristics of cured meats and provides antimicrobial protection. The current practices for production of the organic versions of cured meats use an alternative to the direct addition of nitrate, using vegetable sources such as celery juice powder and converting this into nitrite by bacterial starter cultures that possess nitrate reductase activity.

Although organic processed meats such as ham, bacon, frankfurters and other cured products have become a significant part of the market growth of natural and organic food, the industry faces important challenges regarding microbiological safety, product quality and shelf-life, as well as processing costs. Frequent pathogen outbreaks in the mainstream meat industry also impact consumer confidence in organic meat products. Organic meats may present safety problems because they do not contain adequate residual nitrite and they lack other built-in protection against pathogens such as Clostridium botulinum and Listeria monocytogenes. Conversely, meats may present risks associated with nitrosamine formation when they contain high levels of residual nitrite. Some ingredient manufacturers now supply celery extracts containing nitrites by pre-converting nitrates to nitrites through bacterial fermentation. However, this ingredient is cost prohibitive for many organic meat producers. There is a need to address the issues of safety and shelf life of organic cured meats, in addition to achieving nitrite-cured meat characteristics. 

The objective of this research activity was (beginning with the first Organic Science Cluster), and continues to be, the development of effective alternatives to the direct addition of nitrite for organic cured meats with nitrite-cured meat properties and in-built protection against pathogens and nitrosamine formation.  

The research would build on the preliminary results obtained from the previous work carried out within the first Organic Science Cluster. The impact of this research project will be considerable for the organic meat industry. The results of this research would help organic and natural cured meat processors to improve their productivity and reduce their processing costs, and to meet the demands of consumers for product safety and health benefits at affordable prices. Increased sales through improved consumer confidence and the ability to reach domestic and export markets with improved safety and shelf life of products would contribute significantly to the profitability and competitiveness of the sector.

Activity researchers

Name Affiliation
Joseph Arul, Activity Leader Université Laval
Claude Gariépy Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada
Food Research and Development Centre
François Lamarche Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada
Food Research and Development Centre
Linda Saucier Université Laval
Tony Savard Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada
Food Research and Development Centre

Contributing partners