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Potassium Nitrate - Preservative You should avoid

Submitted by Elizabeth on June 8, 2011

Preservatives are essentially a natural or synthetic substance that is regularly added to a number of food products and have been used as such for centuries. For example, salt is a very commonly used preservative in the preparation of meats and fish that prevents them from spoiling. Refrigeration is another very poplar method of food preservation and helps retain the freshness of the dish. Some of the ingredients and foods that usually use preservatives include vegetable oils, margarine, most baked goods, jellies, bacon, and ham. Preservatives are also commonly found in a number of wines, soft drinks, and fruit juices.

This chemical is also used in making gunpowder, television screens, match sticks, and ceramic glaze, other than the food processing business.

What Is Potassium Nitrate Food Preservative?

Potassium nitrate or KNO3, is a mineral that occurs naturally, and it is a source of nitrogen. It can be found in almost every vegetable.

Other common names for the chemical are saltpetre, nitrate of potash, nitre, and Chilean saltpetre. For commercial usage, it is made in laboratory setting by a reaction of sodium nitrate and potassium chloride. Potassium nitrate decomposes when it is heated.

The chemical dissolves very well in hot water. It is also soluble in cold water, but to a lesser degree. In the food processing industry, it is used since it preserves the natural colors of foods and is known as E252.

Uses Of Potassium Nitrate

Potassium nitrate was originally a much used food preservative, but it is not used as much now.

Today, it is most often used in the curing and preservation of meats, making of brine and also in making corned beef. Potassium nitrate meat preservatives are also commonly used. However, the popularity of potassium nitrate as a preservative stems from the fact that when applied to a meat dish, it helps preserve the color of the meat for a longer period of time. Other non-food uses for potassium nitrate include using it as a fertilizer, since it has nitrogen which helps plants to mature well. It is used in making gunpowder and explosives. Finally, it is a major ingredient in the production of cigarettes, since it makes the tobacco burn evenly. It also has medical uses as it has diuretic qualities and helps against back and joint pain. It is also used in toothpastes and other medicines. The chemical is also used in metal and glass working and in the leather industry. As you can see, it is a rather versatile chemical.

Potassium Preservatives For Ham

Potassium nitrate is often used in the curing and preservation of ham. To do this, the ham, which is the cured leg of pork, is dipped into a potassium sorbate. Almost all hams available on the market today are made with potassium nitrate or petre as a preservative. Research shows that when proteins are heated in the presence of nitrate or nitrite, which is what happens when bacon or ham is heated, nitrosamines are created. These nitrosamines have been shown to be carcinogenic. This is probably one of the reasons why colorectal cancer cases rose dramatically in the 1800s, when petre began being used as a preservative.

Potassium Nitrate Health Effects

Despite its substantial popularity in this method of food preparation, it is important to tread very carefully when incorporating potassium nitrate into your meal preparation because of the fact that recent studies by the National Center for Home Food Preservation have cited that a high potassium nitrate content in food products can have a poisonous effects on diners. Although the symptoms of poisoning do not show up too prominently when a person is exposed to the chemical in small quantities or over short periods of time, the effects can be significantly more damaging when the individual is chronically exposed to the substance. Some of the more prominent symptoms of potassium nitrate poisoning include irregular breathing, convulsions, a rapid heartbeat, dizziness or even a coma and death in the more severe cases. Children too should be kept away from potassium nitrate preservative food additives, as they have been shown to cause dizziness and headaches in children. Potassium nitrate is also commonly used as a diuretic medicine while also being added to medicines that are commonly used to treat conditions like excessive back pain and joint pain. One of the most useful applications of potassium nitrate is its benefits in the production of nitric acid with the addition of concentrated sulfuric acid to the aqueous solution of potassium nitrate. The chemical is also widely used as a fertilizer and rocket propellant as well as in the production of smoke bombs because of the resulting effect when mixed with sugar to generate a cloud of smoke that is roughly about 600 times the volume of the actual bomb.

Potassium nitrate, when ingested in small quantities, is not harmful. The FDA considers it to be non-toxic. Most people have no problem with it, and can easily handle the small quantities in food.

That being said, it is not a good idea to consume it in larger quantities. Research shows that nitrates and nitrites can causes cancers. It is possible that bacteria in the stomach may actually convert some of the potassium nitrate into the much more dangerous potassium nitrite. For this reason, many countries have banned the preservative, and other countries are mulling a ban.

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