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Re-evaluation of sodium nitrate (E 251) and potassium nitrate (E 252) as food additives

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The Panel on Food Additives and Nutrient Sources added to Food (ANS) provided a scientific opinion re‐evaluating the safety of sodium nitrate (E 251) and potassium nitrate (E 252) when used as food additives. The current acceptable daily intakes (ADIs) for nitrate of 3.7 mg/kg body weight (bw) per day were established by the SCF (1997) and JECFA (2002). The available data did not indicate genotoxic potential for sodium and potassium nitrate. The carcinogenicity studies in mice and rats were negative. The Panel considered the derivation of an ADI for nitrate based on the formation of methaemoglobin, following the conversion of nitrate, excreted in the saliva, to nitrite. However, there were large variations in the data on the nitrate‐to‐nitrite conversion in the saliva in humans. Therefore, the Panel considered that it was not possible to derive a single value of the ADI from the available data. The Panel noticed that even using the highest nitrate‐to‐nitrite conversion factor the methaemoglobin levels produced due to nitrite obtained from this conversion would not be clinically significant and would result to a theoretically estimated endogenous N‐nitroso compounds (ENOC) production at levels which would be of low concern. Hence, and despite the uncertainty associated with the ADI established by the SCF, the Panel concluded that currently there was insufficient evidence to withdraw this ADI. The exposure to nitrate solely from its use as a food additive was estimated to be less than 5% of the overall exposure to nitrate in food based on a refined estimated exposure scenario. This exposure did not exceed the current ADI (SCF, 1997). However, if all sources of exposure to dietary nitrate are considered (food additive, natural presence and contamination), the ADI would be exceeded for all age groups at the mean and the highest exposure.