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Nitrites are the salts and esters of nitrous acid.
Important nitrites are the food additives potassium nitrite (E 249) and sodium nitrite (E 250) and calcium nitrite.
Sodium nitrite and potassium nitrite are used as color stabilizers in nitrite curing salt. The use of nitrites is mandatory in the production of sausages, as they prevent the development of the highly dangerous botulism bacterium Clostridium botulinum.
When mixed with sodium chloride, sodium nitrite as a nitrite curing salt (sodium chloride with 0.4 to 0.5% sodium nitrite) gives the meat a permanent red color through the formation of nitrosomyoglobin and prevents the growth of bacteria. This process is called curing. Sodium nitrite may be marketed as a curing salt if it has been mixed with table salt or a table salt substitute.
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