Processed meat and its bad effects on health

Photo by Jez Timms on Unsplash

By Shyam Sundar Gupta, PhD

What is Processed Meat?

Processed meat is often prepared from beef or pork meat. The processes involved in the preparation of processed meat are curing (salting and adding additives), smoking, drying, fermenting, canning, cooking or packaging. Some flavors have been added in processed meats and preserved. Processed meats include bacon, heated sausages like hotdogs (frankfurters), ham (raw, smoked or cooked), raw sausages (like salami), blood sausage, bologna, liver pate, spread meat, luncheon meat, corned beef, and canned meat (1, 23). Frozen, cut or sliced meat is not considered processed meat.

Curing and smoking are definite processes for processing meat.

Curing is the process of addition of salt, sugar, nitrate or nitrite. Salt is added for preserving and improving the taste. Nitrite is added to inhibit the germination of Clostridium botulinum spores and to give colored by reaction with heme iron. Nitrosylmyoglobin give red color to raw cured meat (45). When nitrate is added, a previous step is required so that bacteria reduce nitrate to nitrite. The concentration of nitrite is 200 ppm in processed meat.

  • Dry salting is the old process of meat curing. Salt, saltpeter, and sugar are mixed with meats in this process.
  • Tank curing is a faster process. Meats are placed in a brine solution containing water, salt, sugar, and nitrite.
  • Sodium Erythorbate or ascorbate has been used in a brine solution for stability and improving the color.

Smoking is the way of putting meat in the smoke from incomplete wood Pyrolysis. This smoke gives brown color, changes the flavor and preserves due to containing phenols, acetic acid, aldehydes, and other carboxylic acids. Wood pyrolysis may produce carcinogenic polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon (PAH) (6).

Diseases originated due to the consumption of processed meat

  • Colorectal cancer (7, 8, 9)
  • Stomach cancer (10)
  • Coronary Heart Disease (11)
  • Stroke (12)
  • Heart failure (13)
  • High blood pressure (hypertension) (14)
  • Type 2 diabetes mellitus (15, 16, 17)
  • Poor lung function, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (18,19)

Processed meat is prepared by using various chemical compounds and processes that are harmful to health and produce disease. Fresh meat is safe for health. Taking a lot of processed meat foods frequently may increase the risk of various diseases, mainly cancer. Therefore, the daily eating of processed meat should be avoided. It can be eaten occasionally.


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