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Nitrites and nitrates are naturally present in vegetables such as spinach, lettuce, and celery, with only around 5% of dietary exposure coming from food additive use. Nitrates are important preservatives that work against microorganisms that can spoil food and cause foodborne disease, in particular Clostridium Botulinum which causes botulism.
Based on scientific evaluation, legal maximum safe limits for nitrates have been set. These levels are monitored through risk-based compliance checks carried out by local authorities, and any non-compliant products are addressed through a range of interventions, including withdrawal.
The Food Standards Agency works closely with the meat industry to ensure that nitrites and nitrates are used at the lowest possible levels to achieve their technological function, without jeopardising product safety.