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Your Drinking Water and Food - What You Must Know - Sodium Nitrates Found To Cause Cancer

Updated on April 24, 2012

Lunch meats, hot dogs, and ham all contain a substance called nitrites (or in some circumstances contain nitrate - note the "ate" the natural and original antimicrobial processing ingredient; "ite" is the man-made version).

Sadly, the labeling on our food does not tell us what is used in "processing" the food that we consume. The label guidelines do regulate cured meats and mandate that all "cured meats" must contain nitrate of some type in the processing - that is how the cured meat is allowed to age safely.

The level of nitrates and nitrites have been regulated over the years. And even with food processors of cured meat asking for greater disclosure, the food labels remain without any requirement for this disclosure.

We regulate the levels, but do not demand the disclosure of the levels. Do the government officials not trust the consumer with numbers? Why are the levels not disclosed? I would like an answer. And with the new research that links exposure to cancer, I feel the American public deserves a disclosure of the levels.

Yes, I did say it - the nasty truth is Cancer has been linked to this processing ingredient. There is research evidence of cancer, pancreatic cancer, being caused by nitrites.

We have learned to monitor our blood pressure, sodium intake, fat intake and yet with nitrites, and yet, we don't even have the figures on the food label to moderate the amount we consume.

Did you know your lunch meat could be processed with either a nitrate or a nitrite? One is organic and the "ite" is the inorganic. Want to learn more? Read on...


Dangers of Processed Meat and Sodium Nitrates

Nitrites in Cured Meats - Are They Safe?

American Meat Institute

Important Note: This physician in the white lab coat (the "Meat Science Guy") is from the AMI Foundation - the American Meat Institute Foundation.

Why Are Nitrates in My Water? How Do They Get There?

Nitrites are a favorite component in fertilizers. If you have a well, you are probably already testing for nitrites.

A well brings to you drinking water from the aquafir underneath your home. If you think of an aquafir as an underground lake, you will have a better visual of how your home's well water is a cumulative of the surrounding area. While you may have an individual well serving just your home, the water is from an aquafir that may serve a much larger area. The runoff into the streams that soaks into the ground and then into your well water. A diagram is provided below to help you with this visualization.

Immediate Drinking Water Test Kit

Testimonial on Home Drinking Water Test

"We have well water which we had tested by a local lab a year or two ago. I like to have the water tested regularly, mainly for bacteria, but the local lab charges $100 (if we want lead testing included, it's $200). I ordered this test kit thinking that I'd compare it to the results we got from the lab when we last had our water tested. If anything looked weird or came back abnormal, we'd pay the local lab to test the water.

The tests that I've done so far have given results that are in line with what we were expecting. The local lab gives some directions that I followed when pulling my water samples. They include the following:

1) Use cold water only.
2) For the bacteria test: let your water run for 5 minutes before you take a sample. Don't take a sample from a swivel faucet (commonly found in kitchens). They told me that it's best to take the water sample from the bathroom faucet or tub.
3) For the lead test: Take your sample at a point where the water has been sitting in the pipes for at least 6 hours. They recommended first thing in the morning, before flushing the toilets, etc.

The instructions included with the test kit were fine, but I would have appreciated something a bit more in depth, like those provided by our local lab. Still, this test is a fraction of what the local lab charges, and at least from what I can see, it appears to be fairly accurate."

How to Test for Nitrate in Your Drinking Water

Call your county health department and first ask IF they offer this testing. Often they will provide the testing in a control setting IF you do your part and deliver the water test within a reasonable time frame. They should be able to advise you what that time frame is and exactly what chemicals they will test for and the cost of the testing. The test cost in my area is $22 - cheaper and more comprehensive than what I could do with a home kit.

The water quality testing is a requirement by the EPA and the brochure from my county details they test for two things: 1.) bacteria and 2.) nitrites. The recommendation is an annual test in the spring or fall.

If you have a water softener service, check with your service company - often they will provide the testing for you as well.

If you have a streak of independence, home test kits are available online and at your local hardware store. When checking the major drug stores, sadly at this time no home drinking water tests were available either in the store or online. As the testimonial to the right reveals, this customer would have preferred a more comprehensive test. I urge you to check with your county before you search for a kit online. Most county governments will have a PDF for you to download with the cost and a summary of the results they have found in their past testing.

The testimonial to the right details the step by the step the process and the many advantages and disadvantages of the home test.

Run the Water 3-5 Minutes

In almost all cases, you note a common step for the water testing is to you to run the water typically 3 minutes before you take your sample. Why must we do this to get a good sample? You need to get beyond the water in your home's corrosive piping system. Also, you should only use cold water in your test.

Diagram of Underground Aquafirs Serving Your Residential Well

Diagram of Underground Aquafir Serving Your Residential Well
Diagram of Underground Aquafir Serving Your Residential Well | Source

Nitrates are Odorless and Colorless

Nitrates are odorless and colorless. When used in drinking water, we can most often smell and taste the chlorine, the nitrates, on the other hand, go completely undetected.

Because nitrates are an antimicrobial, they are often used in agriculture and in food preservation.

Nitrates have the possibility of blocking the absorption of oxygen and are particularly dangerous to children and the elderly and some animals including horses.

Well water is particularly susceptible to nitrates because of the heavy use of nitrates in the agriculture industry. Groundwater can travel across many miles due to the structure and ever changing structure of natural aqua firs. Regular testing of the well is often recommended and mandated.

It is absolutely critical to keep your drinking water free of excess nitrates.


NaNO3 = Sodium Nitrate

"Sodium nitrate is the chemical compound with the formula NaNO3. This salt, also known as Chile saltpeter or Peru saltpeter (due to the large deposits found in each country) to distinguish it from ordinary saltpeter, potassium nitrate, is a white solid which is very soluble in water. The mineral form is also known as nitratine, nitratite or soda niter.

Sodium nitrate may be used as a constituent of fertilizers, pyrotechnics and smoke bombs, glass and pottery enamels, as a food preservative and a solid rocket propellant. It has been mined extensively for these purposes."

Two Types of Sodium Nitrates and Sodium Nitrites

There are two different sodium nitrates. The text of the current description of each chemical is provided by Wikipedia to the right. Note one is inorganic, one is mined, one is with an ending "ite" and the other is "ate".

Here is what the Encyclopedia Brittania has to say about "nitrate":

nitrate, any member of either of two classes of compounds derived from nitric acid, HNO3. The salts of nitric acid are ionic compounds containing the nitrate ion, NO-3, and a positive ion, such as NH4+ in ammonium nitrate. E


Sodium nitrite is the inorganic compound with the chemical formula NaNO2. It is a white to slight yellowish crystalline powder that is very soluble in water and is hygroscopic. It is a useful precursor to a variety of organic compounds, such as pharmaceuticals, dyes, and pesticides, but it is probably best known as a food additive to prevent botulism.

Uses for Nitrates

  • Food Preservatives*
  • Sewage Treatment
  • Glass Enamels
  • Pottery Enamels
  • Pyrotechnics (aka the art of fireworks)

*(Sodium nitrate also has antimicrobial properties, hence its use in food preservation)

Nitrate and Nitrite and Celery Seed

The simple way for me to remember which is which, I look a the "ate" as a mined substance and something I can "eat" therefore, "ate" is appropriate in my mindset.

The "ite" is the inorganic version or the the man-made nitrate.

Celery seed is said to contain high amounts of natural "nitrates".

If you see a label on cured meats that says no "nitrites", it simply means no man-made chemicals. In order to be a cured meat, it must contain "nitrate", often nitrate is delivered in the form of celery seed.

Remember - Food Processing Chemicals Are Not Disclosed

Sadly, we have no label requirements telling us what is used in food processing.

We learned this first in ammonia in beef. The food processing chemicals, I feel are just as important as the ingredients.

This new information that has been out since 2007 about nitrites causing cancer reaffirms my belief that the United State's food labels need to be revamped. The fact that Applewood took it upon themselves to detail the no nitrites showcases the food industry can do something. The USDA did change the levels of nitrates but if you note the public is not privy to the amount of nitrate in each package.

Level of Nitrate Not Disclosed

Wouldn't you like to know the level of nitrates you are consuming? They are measuring it and regulating the level but the label is not required to tell us.

How are we as consumers supposed to make knowledgeable choices?

Share Your Thoughts

Do you look at cured meats differently now?

See results

Test Your Home Water for Nitrates and Other Chemicals

Testing is relatively easy and can be done via a kit or through your local health department.

A point of use sanitizer can provide the purest drinking water available. If you are in the country and have a well, a POU ozonator can assist greatly in the quality of your families drinking water.

Food and Water - Health Essentials

Food and water are health essentials and yet even today we are lacking the needed disclosure to make intelligent and informed decisions.

Food labels in the United States need a major revamping not just for portion size and for calories but also for the diseases that harm our lives.

Imagine if we could make better decisions about what we eat, imagine if we could avoid Cancer, imagine not losing a loved one to Cancer, imagine what a wonderful world it could be.

Speak up - your opinion counts. I just read a sign that stated if you think you are too small to make a difference, try sleeping in a room with a mosquito.


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    • CelebrateUSA profile imageAUTHOR

      Ken Kline 

      4 years ago from Chicago, Illinois

      I never knew before about sodium nitrates so this was interesting information for me. I love my ozone water and cannot imagine a day without my Advantage 03 home purification system. I believe the water we drink is the key to great health and may be the answer for preventing cancer. I look to see more research completed on this in the future. Thank you so much for stopping by.

    • JPSO138 profile image


      4 years ago from Cebu, Philippines, International

      This is a very interesting hub. The information provided are very crucial and I think everyone should know about it.

    • GmaGoldie profile image

      Kelly Kline Burnett 

      6 years ago from Madison, Wisconsin


      I was shocked to find this information sadly buried. I don't understand why there isn't more information out there. In our health craze we leave out the important information that we can readily change.

      I love smoked meats and I can taste the difference but didn't know the scientific reasons behind the change.

      I remain dismayed with the labeling and knowledge base given by the Food and Drug Administration. The lack of transparency and yet our agencies impose major obstacles upon small food manufacturers. We are simply doing it wrong. This information should be out there and completely transparent.

      Thank you so much for stopping by and contributing. Always appreciate your input - you are one of the very best assets HubPages has to offer.

    • James A Watkins profile image

      James A Watkins 

      6 years ago from Chicago

      I certainly appreciate you bringing this sobering report to my attention. This is frightening alright. I am going to be checking labels more carefully for "ites" versus "ates" from now on. Thank you!

    • GmaGoldie profile image

      Kelly Kline Burnett 

      6 years ago from Madison, Wisconsin

      Green Art,

      I had forgotten about the "King Corn" - so glad you reminded me. My Mother In Law farms stills with tenant farmers. Our family goal is to always retain this precious heritage. I hope someday a family member returns to the farm but if we do not retain the land - that dream could not become a reality.

      I believe our food system needs a major overhaul. We have to know what we are eating and the federal government has been bought by big food. We as consumers are bigger than big food - our voices do count. We must speak up on these critical issues.

      I don't believe in government regulations and I will not blame the federal government but I will blame the consumers IF we don't speak up. The world of food is beyond "big food" - it is now dominated by retailers who have the power to demand better labeling and full disclosure. We don't need the government but we do need to speak up.

      These items you mention are not just nutritional items they are health items - who wants to eat this stuff? Why don't the retailers demand disclosure? And offering natural could be offered as a premium which I feel would be well received by consumers.

      Buying American, buying locally made is a niche that the big boxes haven't explored. I commend Menards for advertising Made in America. I commend the local communities who promote the locally grown food - we need more of this!

      Thank you so much for sharing these critical points that make us not just healthier but make us feel better.

    • Green Art profile image

      Green Art 

      6 years ago

      I'll have look in the Advantageo3 system, sounds interesting. We have bottled water delivered every few weeks.

      While exercising the other day I watched a great documentary called, "King Corn" based on the growing of corn and where it ends up. It covers the plight of the small farms being bought out by big farming operations and beef primarily feed corn and what it does to them. Many of the animals get infections and need antibiotic injections to combat them. Of course many of us eat this meat not realizing that we are also eating this processed corn. It has no nutritional value, just empty calories. They also discuss the use of corn as a sweetener in the majority of processed foods and drinks(soda/pop) consumed today. A must see!

      I am also feeling so much better eating and drinking foods that have nutritional value and not just something to fill me up.

      Take Care, GmaGoldie

    • GmaGoldie profile image

      Kelly Kline Burnett 

      6 years ago from Madison, Wisconsin

      Green Art,

      You have the lifestyle we should all seek to adopt. Your water issue is very sad. Oh, not to have safe water - how terrible. We have safe water and always have where we have lived - high urban centers. Last year we added a ozone generator and I cannot say enough about it.

      I am not a water drinker normally but I love my Advantage03 system. It is filtered water with ozone. I try to drink an 8 oz glass every work morning (in stead of my Starbucks).

      My plants show remarkable progress when I water with Advantage03. I am hoping to have the unit retrofitted for the garden house.

      The processed meat is something I wish more Americans knew about. Our children are growing up on this non-food but alas I grew up on soda pop and survived but now I know better.

      I do feel better when I am eating right. You hit all the right cords for healthy living. Thank you so much!

    • Green Art profile image

      Green Art 

      6 years ago

      Great HUB! All of us need to know what we drinking and eating!

      My husband and I stopped drinking our towns water several years ago because of the high radium numbers. We receive letters every month saying they plan to fix it and they never do. Bottom line the water is not safe to drink because of the cancer causing radium in it.

      I've recently started eating more of a plant based, whole foods diet after seeing the movie "Forks over Knives" I'd already stopped eating most processed foods and meat. I'm also working at cutting out all dairy as well because of the inhumane treatment of the animals and what they are fed and injected with.

      Voted UP, useful and interesting!

    • GmaGoldie profile image

      Kelly Kline Burnett 

      6 years ago from Madison, Wisconsin


      Thank you very much for contributing. You are right, the lobby spending keeps us in the dark. The power of the Internet I hope changes this lack of knowledge.

      I cannot eat this stuff - ever since they added something, changed it, my stomach rejects it so it was surprising to learn these important facts.

    • Perspycacious profile image

      Demas W Jasper 

      6 years ago from Today's America and The World Beyond

      The "-ites" and "-ates" have been around long enough that my grown children no long got hot dogs when they were in elementary school. We valued their health and didn't see any need to take chances. Chances are reduced when the public is an informed public. Just as the tobacco lobby spent billions for the right to keep the public in the dark, the meat packers/processors are protecting their right to keep us blissfully ignorant.

      Three cheers for your efforts to keep this subject alive and available. Sharing.

    • GmaGoldie profile image

      Kelly Kline Burnett 

      6 years ago from Madison, Wisconsin

      It is sad the lack of information that is given to the populace. I hope we see this change dramatically with the new found knowledge base of the internet. WE the people can only be protected if we have the information.

      I believe the paradigm of how the FDA protects us needs to be changed to a facility of full disclosure and education rather than simply regulations.

    • StephenCowry profile image


      6 years ago

      It should be checked by the FDA to prevent illnesses to spread out. My first time to learn about this issue. Thanks for bringing up. Voted up.

    • GmaGoldie profile image

      Kelly Kline Burnett 

      6 years ago from Madison, Wisconsin

      I think the solution is simply knowledge and not overdoing it. I believe some of the natural cured meats we will find are safer.

      I am not aware of the smoke salmon item. Would love to hear more.

    • katyzzz profile image


      6 years ago from Sydney, Australia

      Scary stuff Goldie, thanks for letting us know about it, but then....what to do????

      I wonder what the situation is with smoked salmon?

    • GmaGoldie profile image

      Kelly Kline Burnett 

      6 years ago from Madison, Wisconsin


      The question I cannot answer and neither can the FDA is how much is too much and how much is too much for those sensitive or prone to Cancer.

      I don't support eliminating cured meats - for one, I love cured meats but having this knowledge is simply another reason to eat a diversified group of foods and in moderation.

      I feel the level of nitrate should be address - similar perhaps to the sodium.

      Salt causes fat around the heart but in small does, salt is not harmful.

      I would pay more for a hot dog and I have paid allot for a great hot dog IF I knew the level of nitrates were lower. The item I am frustrated with is the lack of information.

    • GmaGoldie profile image

      Kelly Kline Burnett 

      6 years ago from Madison, Wisconsin

      Testing our home water seems like a painful maintenance step but it is simple and it is important.

      It is amazing how you can live in a rural area and be affected more by nitrates than our urban homes. Once you understand the science it all makes sense.

    • breakfastpop profile image


      6 years ago

      Thanks so much for this valuable information. I have to take a new look at the water that's coming into my home. I do use a filtration system, but I'm not sure that it does the trick when it comes to all of these harmful substances.

    • alphagirl profile image


      6 years ago from USA

      Nitrates cause cancer. I wonder why the FDA allows this chemical to be used. 25 years ago studies were done. Look at everyone now. Sick, cancer and not so healthy. You are right the labeling needs better cigaretts.."May cause cancer if eaten."


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