Sodium nitrite is an often used ingredient compound added to many different types of meats (bacon, turkey, ham, most lunch meats, and even fish). The benefit of using sodium nitrite in foods is that it is highly effective in combating the growth of many types of bacterial including those causing botulism. In addition to sodium nitrate acting as an antibacterial or bacteria-preventing agent, it has the additional benefit of adding a very attractive pinkish hue to the meats and fish on which it is used.
Sodium nitrate, while naturally present in several kinds of fruits and vegetables, the use of it as a preservative may be damaging to your health when not paired with the antioxidants available in fruits and vegetables.
The American Medical Association has determined that consuming high amounts of sodium nitrates over time may cause conditions that lead to your body becoming unable to allow red blood cells to transport oxygen throughout the body.
The American Medical Association has also determined that an increased diet of sodium nitrites can cause a reaction to increase your risk of cancer. Several expert associations have found links to high consumption of sodium nitrates increasing the risk of cancer.
When consuming products such as lunch meats, bacon and hot dogs one must consider the albeit small yet unignorably possible chance of the risks involved with consuming sodium nitrate as an additive. On the flip side, it is critical to follow instructions and expiration labels on foods that are labeled sodium nitrite or sodium nitrate free because these foods are typically not as equipped to fight off the growth of both aerobic and anaerobic bacterium. A bacteria called clostridium botulinum causes botulism and is a very lethal bacteria; victims known to have respiratory issues and even respiratory failure in addition to possible body paralysis. This bacteria requires an oxygen free environment to grow so watch out for cans and vacuum sealed bags that look puffy. This may be a sign that the anaerobic bacteria is growing in that product. This is a special note to point out for consumers who refuse to purchase foods containing sodium nitrite as an additive.
There is still arguments in the food community which underline whether or not nitrates truly can increase the risk of cancer. Even the American Cancer society has somewhat acknowledged that there is not ample proof of cancer risk from consuming sodium nitrite; however, the Cancer Research Center of Hawaii has founded that individuals who consumed more processed foods containing sodium nitrite had a much higher chance of pancreatic cancer than those who consumed the least. Even with findings from several sources conflicting in terms of safety at this time the FDA has still not announced that foods containing sodium nitrite are unsafe to consume.
So you decide for yourself as a consumer. Personally, I want the least amount of ingredients and preservatives in my food as possible so I err on the side of caution and choose to eat foods not containing additional sodium nitrite and make wiser choices shopping.