Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Austrian Guy On No-nitrite Bacon - "Nitrite free: Where does the truth end?"

As I mentioned before, Austrian meat scientists are generally pro-nitrite and nitrate to a degree that Americans find shocking. Language barriers can prevent us from communicating - but sometimes a guy like Gerhard Feiner comes along, who writes in English.

His essay, "Nitrite free: Where does the truth end?"is the best thing I've seen so far on the fundamental problems of the current situation:
  • Consumers can't tell there's nitrates in the product - because the "celery juice" and "cane juice" listed on the label don't scream "nitrates".
  • Nitrites form in the product - but the consumer doesn't suspect that, as they don't appear on the label. Were nitrites added directly, they'd have to be listed on the label as preservatives, which would turn off consumers. So having nitrites form in the product pays off two ways.
  • You can get nitrosamines forming in the no-nitrite, no-nitrate product, just as in stuff with nitrites directly added. Hence, there isn't necessarily a health benefit to the no-nitrite, no-nitrate product.
  • Although the amount of nitrites that form in the no-nitrate, no-nitrite product are lower than in the ones where nitrite is added directly, when the consumer reads "no-nitrite", he figures there are no nitrites, not just fewer.
One point Feiner doesn't bring up is does the amount of nitrite in the product vary from batch to batch? One good thing about directly adding nitrites is that you have some handle on how much is going in. Is producing nitrites in a roundabout way from celery juice and cane juice just as regular and predictable?

I'd be happier if my products said "naturally cured", "no nitrite, no nitrate", as I'd make more money. And if I knew that there were lots of "natural" nitrites in the product, safeguarding the health of my customers, I'd sleep easier. Yet it seems terribly dishonest to produce meat products labeled "no nitrite, no nitrate" when the whole point of the processing is to get nitrites in there without any clues on the label.

Yet, based on prices we observe in the market, and feedback from customers - e.g. getting attacked for not having a "no-nitrite" bacon), people very much want meats cured with nitrites - they just don't want any clues to it on the label.


boberica said...

There is a lot of real mediocre bacon out there selling for alot of money, just because they can put that no nitrite/ no nitrate label on. kind of nutty

Heath said...

Well, of the two no-nitrite bacons that I compared against mine, the one that was "certifiable humane raised and handled" tasted the worst.

You have to figure that if a product is certified this and that, and no-nitrite this and that, and organic or biodynamic certified, it is probably isn't going to taste great. Because anyone who jumps through that many hoops to get his product to meet all those criteria isn't focusing on the taste - he's focusing on the certification.

Many of the people who are humane, organic and so on are too broke, busy or independent to pay for certification or submit to the auditing and random inspection associated with certification.

A farmer told me that every organic farmer around here seems to be cheating anyway. E.g. you've got a guy raising organic meat, but he's got a shed full of synthetic pesticides. I guess he's storing them for some other conventional farmer - an organic farmer can't use that stuff at all, right?

I'm guessing that people producing organic meat have a greater economic incentive to cheat than people raising organic crops. The more processed and refined a product is, the more the incentive to cheat.

E.g. suppose you are making organic, breed-specific, certifiably humane raised and handled sausage and someone accidentally tosses in some meat that doesn't meet the requirements - and he's tossed in enough that you shouldn't sell the batch to those high standards. And suppose you find out about the mistake only six months later, after you've cured 10 tons of the product.

There's simply a huge incentive to cheat and pretend it didn't happen.

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warren said...

There's a lot of mediocre bacon out there whether it's labeled with nitrates or not. And a product that's certified organic/humane/free-range/nitrate-free/... isn't necessarily bad any more than the one without is necessarily good.