Bird's Nest and Nitrite


          Red bird's nest is reported in recent news stories to contain nitrite, which may pose threats to the health of consumers. The following information is brought to the attention of consumers to give them a better understanding about nitrite and to remind them to exercise cautions when purchasing bird’s nest.


What is a "nitrite"?

          Nitrite is converted from nitrate, which is part of the natural nitrogen cycle and is found in air, soil, water and food; nitrate may also be produced in vivo. Nitrite is often used as a food additive for preservation and coloring purposes and the prevention of bacterial growth. However, it is toxic and will be converted into cancer-causing agents such as Carcinogenic Nitroso Compounds under certain conditions. Long-term consumption of food containing excessive amounts of nitrite will increase the chance of cancer. According to the National Standards of the People’s Republic of China, the use of nitrite is only allowed in processed foods such as salted bacon. Nitrite will not pose serious threats to human health if it is used in accordance with the standards.  


Why is nitrite added to the red bird’s nest?

          Nitrite found in red bird’s nest may either be formed naturally or the result of an attempt by merchants to turn white bird’s nest into red bird’s nest by adding a large amount of nitrite during the baking and dyeing process. As nitrite can be dissolved in water and red bird’s nest will be washed, soaked and stewed for an extended period of time in most cases, the level of nitrite is lowered as a result.


Tips for the trade:

1.            Purchase from reliable suppliers;

2.            Keep the inventory receipts for future references;

3.           Clearly state the product name, type, origin, manufacturer information, etc.;

4.           Pay attention to announcements made by the government and other related agencies, and cooperate with their efforts whenever necessary.


Tips for the public:  

1.           Purchase bird’s nest from reputable shops;

2.           Pay special attention to change of color when soaking red bird’s nest;

l   Due to its unique nutritional structure, red natural bird's nest may release red substances when it is soaked in the water;

l   If the water in which the red bird’s nest is soaked turns from colorless to dark red, it is highly likely that the product has been dyed; in this case, the public is advised to  stop purchasing or consuming such products;

3.           Nitrite can be dissolved in water, and will become mixed with the water when the bird’s nest is washed or soaked. Therefore, the water left from the cleaning and soaking process should be disposed of;

4.            If the public have doubts about the safety of food, they are advised to stop purchasing or consuming such food.