Bacon, Ascobic Acid, and Nitrosamines

Discussion in 'Smoking Bacon' started by willj, Jul 2, 2013.

  1. I want to make another batch of bacon this summer, but I've been doing a lot of reading about nitrosamines. This is the impression I have now:

    -If you want to cold smoke bacon (and you do), you need a nitrite or nitrate.

    -If you cure bacon with nitrite or nitrate, then when you cook it, particularly at high temperatures, nitrosamines form. These are bad.

    -If you add ascorbic acid, sodium ascorbate, or sodium erythorbate to the cure, then that radically inhibits nitrosamines formation, which is a very smart-sounding thing to say. It's not just a matter of eating vitamin C with the bacon - it won't counteract nitrosamines that have already formed in the bacon, but it can prevent them from forming while cooking.

    There are things I haven't been able to answer conclusively:

    1) I found one site that said ascorbic acid will counteract the nitrite entirely over a ten-day cure, leaving me with a nifty case of botulism if I try to cold smoke that "cured" bacon. I can't find that site now, but I could find this one which suggests something similar:

    So is ascorbic acid even safe to use in a dry cure? I've heard discussion about these accelerants being used mainly in pumped bacon, mainly because that's the kind of bacon the USDA specifies has to use one of these chemicals. Which of these three chemicals would I be recommended to use in a dry cure?

    2) Let's say I'm curing 25 lbs of pork belly with a standard dry cure - 10 oz. salt, 5 oz. sugar, 2 oz. pink salt. Let's also say I want to use sodium erythorbate to make myself feel safer and to secure a nice color. How much do I add? Do I have to adjust any of the other amounts? Do I have to adjust the time I would spend curing? Any input would be appreciated.
  2. Yes, that was one of the articles I encountered. It's highly misleading - everything it says is true, technically, but the concern has never really been NITRITES so much as the cancer-causing chemicals they form - nitrosamines. You should find it very telling that nitrosamines are only mentioned a single time, in this sentence:

    "Critical reviews of the original evidence suggesting that nitrates/nitrites are carcinogenic reveals that in the absence of co-administration of a carcinogenic nitrosamine precursor, there is no evidence for carcinogenesis."

    That sounds like good news until you consider that "nitrosamine precursors" (amines and nitrosating agents) are very common. It's like saying "There's no evidence that nitrites are dangerous at all unless you're using them in meat (which is full amines) that you intend to put in your stomach (which is full nitrosating agents)." Info from here:
  3. Yep, accelerants may reduce nitrite levels below a safe level for the prevention of botulinum toxin formation when cold smoking.

    In regards to bacon, ascorbate or erythorbate are required in commercial bacon when bacon is gang pumped and/or massaged. The limits are 440ppm minimum to 660ppm maximum.
    Note that both are very rapid curing procedures, there is no ascorbate or erythorbate requirement (or ppm range) for other forms of bacon curing.

    If nitrosamines are a concern, cook at low temps....

    "A bacon cooking study, "Effect of Frying and Other Cooking Conditions on Nitrosopyrrolidine Formation in Bacon" (Journal of Science, Vol. 39, pages 314-316), showed no evidence of nitrosamines in bacon fried at 210 °F for 10 minutes (raw), 210 °F for 15 minutes (medium well), 275 °F for 10 minutes (very light), or 275 °F for 30 minutes (medium well). But when bacon was fried at 350 °F for 6 minutes (medium well), 400 °F for 4 minutes (medium well), or 400 °F for 10 minutes (burned), some nitrosamines were found. Thus, well-done or burned bacon is potentially more hazardous than less well-done bacon."

    Source: USDA

    Last edited: Jul 2, 2013
  4. "Note that both are very rapid curing procedures"

    [font=arial, helvetica, sans-serif]Ahhh. This might be the missing piece in my understanding. I was wondering how they could be using accelerators like this if they counteract the nitrites, but I guess it makes sense if it's a much quicker cure.[/font]

    [font=arial, helvetica, sans-serif]I might need to just forget about the accelerators, then, and buy a surface thermometer.[/font]

    [font=arial, helvetica, sans-serif]Thanks![/font]
    Last edited: Jul 2, 2013
  5. Good idea.

  6. chefrob

    chefrob Master of the Pit OTBS Member

    if you want to waste your $$$.....just cook yer bacon on med heat.
    the USDA can't even get it right........they give you 2 methods to get to med-well, one is at a lower temp. it is not about's how you get there.
  7. I've wanted one for other reasons. This would only be the excuse.

    I've done some more reading and thinking about this. Cooking the bacon on lower temperatures does prevent nitrosamines from forming in the pan, but I'm not convinced that that's a total solution - the nitrites and the amines are still there in the bacon, and as the article I posted earlier suggests, the stomach is just as good a place as a hot pan for causing nitrites and amines to react into nitrosamines. So it seems possible at least that cooking your bacon on medium isn't really solving the problem - it might just be changing the location where the nitrosamines you're eating get formed.

    So then I'm thinking "Oh, no, that means the cruddy pumped bacon at the supermarket is the safer stuff!" Well that may not be true either:
    To summarize: ascorbic acid, which supposedly makes the bacon safer, may either have little effect or even make the bacon more dangerous. The article also suggests that I might be reacting in the previous paragraph and that nitrosamines might have a hard time forming in the stomach.

    So what I'm taking away from everything:

    -Accelerants like ascorbic acid, sodium ascorbate, sodium erythorbate etc. are not a viable option for the home baconeer since they can only be used in industrial-level, super-fast cures. They may not be any good at preventing cancer, anyway.

    -Nitrosamines form if you cook the bacon at high temperatures. So cook it at low temperature.

    -This doesn't necessarily mean that you're safe if you cook it at lower temperatures since nitrosamine can form in your stomach, too, though maybe not as easily, I don't know, it's hard to say.

    -This whole thing makes my head hurt.
  8. pops6927

    pops6927 Smoking Guru Staff Member Moderator Group Lead OTBS Member SMF Premier Member

    I bake my bacon in the oven at 350° for 15 minutes, turns out great!  You can buy disposable ripple aluminum pans to cook bacon on with ridges so it won't absorb the grease, too.
  9. akdutchguy

    akdutchguy Meat Mopper

    Bacon good for you. Or bacon bad for you. I love bacon. I'm still going to eat bacon. I agree that we should do everything possible to make food safe for human consumption: proper cure use, temps, times. I'm probably more likely to get hit by a car than die from eating a piece of bacon and 2 eggs for breakfast every morning. Even if I did die from eating bacon at least it tasted good. I could have died from eating nitrite laced brocolli. Yuk.
  10. pmorton62

    pmorton62 Newbie

    The stomach and a low temp skillet are completely different environments than a hot skillet.  These reactions require a certain minimum temperature (actually kinetic energy) to proceed.  Cooking bacon at lower temperatures is not going to produce nitrosamines.  And the stomach certainly isn't hot enough.

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