Bacon, like other cured (or pickled) meats such as ham, corned beef, frankfurters and salami,
contain nitrite. Nitrite, and sometimes nitrate, both of which occur naturally, are used to produce
the characteristic colour, flavour and texture of these products and also aid their preservation. The
use of nitrite and nitrate can, under some circumstances, result in the formation of substances
called nitrosamines. Nitrosamines can cause cancer in laboratory animals and they may have the
same potential in humans. However, the nitrosamines in bacon occur in much lower levels than
the amounts used in tests with laboratory animals and we do not know how low the probability of
getting cancer from exposure to these low levels is.
Studies that have looked at populations that consume large amounts of nitrite or nitrate have not
been able to establish conclusively a link between these substances and cancer. The picture is
complicated because the potential to form carcinogenic (cancer causing) nitrosamines is altered by
other dietary components. For example, vitamin C can prevent the formation of nitrosamines. It
seems wise not to consume excessive amounts of foods containing nitrite and nitrate. Often these
products also have relatively high levels of salt and fat.