Bacon & Botulism

Bacon & Botulism
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The nitrite preservatives in processed meats such as bologna, bacon, ham, and hot dogs form carcinogenic nitrosamines, but also reduce the growth of botulism bacteria—forcing regulators to strike a balance between consumers risking cancer, or a deadly form of food poisoning.

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There are literally hundreds of studies on the link between cancer and cured meats like bologna, bacon, ham, and hot dogs. But just for a taste, just over the last year or so, processed meat consumption was significantly associated with bladder cancer, endometrial cancer, prostate cancer, thyroid cancer, and then all the way down the digestive tract: throat cancer, esophageal cancer, more esophageal cancer, more esophageal cancer and stomach cancer, colon cancer, and rectal cancer. And then, for a ten-for-one deal, processed meat was significantly related to the risk of stomach, colon, rectal, pancreatic, lung, prostate, testicular, kidney, more bladder cancer—and leukemia, as well. That’s why the official recommendation is to try to “avoid processed meats” entirely.

With concern over the potential danger of nitrosamines growing, consumer groups, such as the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a wonderful group, petitioned the USDA as far back as 1972 to ban, or at least greatly reduce, the nitrite in cured meats. The USDA denied the petition, citing nitrite’s role in the prevention of botulism bacteria that can grow inside vacuum-packed meats. They had to weigh the risk of cancer with the risk of consumers getting a deadly food poisoning bacteria from lunchmeat.

You know, in 2011, the National Pork Board officially changed their quarter-century old slogan from “Pork: the other white meat” to “Pork: Be Inspired.” Maybe for bacon, they should have considered the tagline: “Cancer or Botulism, take your pick.”

To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video. This is just an approximation of the audio contributed by MaryAnn Allison.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Image thanks to Emily Barney / Flickr

There are literally hundreds of studies on the link between cancer and cured meats like bologna, bacon, ham, and hot dogs. But just for a taste, just over the last year or so, processed meat consumption was significantly associated with bladder cancer, endometrial cancer, prostate cancer, thyroid cancer, and then all the way down the digestive tract: throat cancer, esophageal cancer, more esophageal cancer, more esophageal cancer and stomach cancer, colon cancer, and rectal cancer. And then, for a ten-for-one deal, processed meat was significantly related to the risk of stomach, colon, rectal, pancreatic, lung, prostate, testicular, kidney, more bladder cancer—and leukemia, as well. That’s why the official recommendation is to try to “avoid processed meats” entirely.

With concern over the potential danger of nitrosamines growing, consumer groups, such as the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a wonderful group, petitioned the USDA as far back as 1972 to ban, or at least greatly reduce, the nitrite in cured meats. The USDA denied the petition, citing nitrite’s role in the prevention of botulism bacteria that can grow inside vacuum-packed meats. They had to weigh the risk of cancer with the risk of consumers getting a deadly food poisoning bacteria from lunchmeat.

You know, in 2011, the National Pork Board officially changed their quarter-century old slogan from “Pork: the other white meat” to “Pork: Be Inspired.” Maybe for bacon, they should have considered the tagline: “Cancer or Botulism, take your pick.”

To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video. This is just an approximation of the audio contributed by MaryAnn Allison.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Image thanks to Emily Barney / Flickr

Doctor's Note

This reminds me of the cooked meat carcinogen issue. If we undercook meat, then we can get food poisoning (see for example Fecal Bacteria SurveyChicken Out of UTIsU.S. Meat Supply Flying at Half Staph). But if we make sure meat is well-done, we risk exposure to carcinogens produced when muscle flesh is exposed to high temperatures (see Fast Food Tested For CarcinogensMuscle Tremors & DietCarcinogens in Roasted Chicken?). See Are Nitrates Pollutants or Nutrients? for why nitrites from meat can be harmful, while nitrites from nitrates in vegetables can be helpful. 

For more context, also check out my associated blog posts: Using Greens to Improve Athletic PerformanceTop 10 Most Popular Videos of the YearStrawberries Can Reverse Precancerous Progression; and How Chemically Contaminated Are We?

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12 responses to “Bacon & Botulism

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  1. This reminds me of the cooked meat carcinogen issue. If we undercook meat, then we can get food poisoning (see for example Fecal Bacteria Survey, Chicken Out of UTIs, U.S. Meat Supply Flying at Half Staph) but if we make sure meat is well-done, we risk exposure to carcinogens produced when muscle flesh is exposed to high temperatures (see Fast Food Tested For Carcinogens, Muscle Tremors Diet, Carcinogens in Roasted Chicken). Tomorrow I’ll cover why nitrites from meat can be harmful while nitrites from nitrates in vegetables can be helpful. Can’t wait for more on the latest in nutritional science? There are hundreds of other videos on more than a thousand subjects.




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  2. It seems so …negligent…that we know these things yet nobody cares! Can’t believe more of a fuss is not made about processed meats. Even the WCRF say avoid it! They are legit, and have a wide audience. And people eat these foods everyday with no intention of changing! Why are they allowed to sell it? Ban it I say! It’s a major contributor to future healthcare costs from future diseaed people. Taxpayers money. Ban it and Save ourselves the bill…..




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      1. The guy who wrote this article doesn’t even have a college degree. You believe him over a M.D. who’s written books and is considered a subject matter expert?




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