Finally, with few exceptions, fermented meat products include nitrite or nitrate as curing agents.These are added as either the sodium or potassium salt. Although nitrite salts are now used far more frequently, until the 1970s, nitrate salts were more common. For reasons discussed previously, some sausage manufacturers, still prefer nitrate. In any case, nitrite is added at a maximum of 156 ppm for dry and semi-dry sausages. Since a single ppm translates to 1 gram per 1,000 kg, only 156 grams (about one-third of a pound) are all that can be added to a 1,000-kg batch of sausage (more than 2,200 pounds). Despite this relatively small amount, nitrite performs a number of important microbiological and organoleptic functions. In fact, without nitrite (or nitrate), fermented meat products would be far less popular and considerably less safe to eat.
Nitrite is mainly added to sausages (and not just those that are fermented) because of its effectiveness as an antimicrobial agent. In particular, nitrite inhibits the out-growth of C. botu-linum spores (Box 6-4), making it one of the most powerful anti-botulinum agents available to the processed meats industry.Although fermented meats contain combinations of organic acids and salt, both effective antimicrobials, neither provide a sufficient degree of inhibition against this organism. It should be emphasized, however, that nitrite alone, at the levels currently used, does not entirely inhibit C. botulinum. Rather, it is the combined effects of nitrite along with organic acids, low pH, and low aw that effectively control the growth of this organism during the manufacture and storage of fermented sausage.
The other reasons for adding nitrite to fermented meats are related to the organoleptic properties this agent imparts. Nitrite fixes color, acts as an antioxidant and prevents a warmedover flavor, and imparts a desirable cured meat flavor.
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