How to determine the amount of nitrites in meat at home

Scientists from The University of Burgos, Spain has developed a method that allows you to quickly determine the amount of nitrites and nitrates in meat at home. This requires a special film, a smartphone and 15 minutes of time. Nitrites and nitrates are often added to bacon to keep it marketable for longer. But they are not good for health, especially in large quantities.

Image by tomwieden from Pixabay

Many consumers would like to limit the consumption of nitrites and nitrates. These preservatives can form compounds that potentially cause cancer. But it is not easy to determine how many of them are contained in food.

Researchers from The University of Burgos, Spain has developed a color-changing film that can be glued to a product and analyze the level of nitrites by analyzing its color using an application on a smartphone.

What are the harmful nitrites and nitrates

To preserve the fresh look and taste of salami and bacon, they are often treated with nitrites or nitrates (salts of nitric and nitric acids, respectively), Although nitrates are relatively stable, they can turn into more active nitrite ions already in the body. In the acidic environment of the stomach or with strong heating in a frying pan, nitrite can react with the formation of nitrosamines, which are associated with the development of certain types of cancer. Methods for determining the level of nitrites in food products already exist, but they are not very convenient for the consumer and often require expensive and time-consuming methods and tools.

Follow the color

POLYSEN. Film for the determination of nitrites ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces 2022, DOI: 10.1021/acsami.2c09467. The POLYSEN sensor film reacts to nitrite anions by changing color: it becomes darker the higher the nitrite content.

The researchers developed a film they called POLYSEN, which means “polymer sensor”. It consists of four monomers and hydrochloric acid. Discs stamped from the film were placed on meat samples for 15 minutes, allowing the monomer units and acid on the film to react with nitrite. Then the discs were removed and immersed in a solution of sodium hydroxide (caustic soda) for one minute to develop color. The yellowish tinge of the film intensified as the level of nitrite in the food increased. To quantify the color change, the researchers created a smartphone app. The application can determine the quantity by the color of the image.

The researchers say that the new method may become a convenient and inexpensive way for consumers to determine the level of nitrites in food products.

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