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A Study of the Level of Nitrate in a Variety of Infant Foods

ADAS Consulting Ltd
Start date
End date
A variety of samples of different types of infant foods will be obtained. Sample planning has been designed to ensure that the greatest variety of infant food types, brands and flavours are studied including wet, dry, canned and jarred foods, savoury and sweet, complete meals and individual dishes. The sample plan does not take into account market share. Samples will be taken from three different geographical regions within the UK - Oxfordshire (100 samples), Manchester (50 samples) and Plymouth (50 samples). A wide range of outlets will be visited including independent retailers, budget supermarkets and large retail chains.

Samples will be homogenised and then analysed by an in-house method which is equivalent to British Standard BS EN 12014-2:1997: Foodstuffs - determination of nitrate and/or nitrite content. Part 2. HPLC/IC method for the determination of nitrate content of vegetables and vegetable products.

More information
Infant foods may contain a wide variety of ingredients, including fruit, grains, vegetables and meat. Some of these ingredients can contain nitrate which may be present either as an additive as with meat, or naturally as with vegetables. In theory, nitrate in food can be metabolised in the stomach to form N-nitroso compounds which are thought to be implicated in stomach cancer.

Many studies have investigated the possibility of a link between nitrate and cancer, but so far these have failed to provide convincing evidence that nitrate intake in the UK causes cancer.

Infant food and drink products are subject to extensive legislation and regulation. Currently, however, there is no regulation specifically controlling the levels of nitrate in infant foods/formula. The European Commission intended to introduce a nitrate limit in infant food through European Commission Directive (EC) 804/1999 but this was removed in expectation of a General Directive on infant foods being put in place. This directive has not, however, been introduced.

In 2001, the European Commission discussed its intention to introduce a maximum level for nitrate in infant food and requested that any data available be collated and sent to them to inform further discussions on appropriate levels. In response, the Food Standards Agency commissioned the project reported here to investigate nitrate levels in infant foods sold in the UK.

Find more about this project and other FSA food safety-related projects at the Food Standards Agency Research webpage.

Funding Source
Food Standards Agency
Project number
Legislation and Regulations
Chemical Contaminants