Health and Medicine Question #3794

Debby Marie L. Kwan, a 18 year old female from Cebu City, Philippines asks on February 18, 2007,

Are smoked foods such as beef jerky carcinogenic?

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The answer

Barry Shell answered on February 18, 2007

There is definitely some evidence of this, but the chance of getting cancer from smoked meat is extremely rare. The sources of the problem are the nitrate and nitrite salts that are used to prepare the meat before smoking. From Wikipedia:

"Sodium nitrite is used for the "curing of meat" because it prevents bacterial growth and, in a reaction with the meat's myoglobin, gives the product a desirable dark red color. Because of the toxicity of nitrite (lethal dose of nitrite for humans is about 22 mg per kg body weight), the maximum allowed nitrite concentration in meat products is 200 ppm. Under certain conditions, especially during cooking, nitrites in meat can react with degradation products of amino acids, forming nitrosamines, which are known carcinogens."

I would not worry about it, but I would also not eat beef jerky every day. If possible, you could look for beef jerky and other smoked meats that are labelled "Nitrate and Nitrite Free".


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