Cured Meat (Lap Mei) is a kind of traditional Chinese delicacy made by curing meat (e.g. pork and duck) with a mix of salt, granulated sugar and alcohol as seasoning and is then left to dry in the air for a few days. Preservatives like nitrates and nitrites are added during the curing process not only to give the meat a unique coloration and flavor but also to inhibit bacteria, especially clostridium botulinum. Common types of cured meat include sausage, duck, chicken and fish.
The purposes of using nitrates and nitrites
1. Preservatives: nitrates or nitrites, essential for food preservation, are added during the curing process to inhibit bacterial growth, especially clostridium botulinum;
2. Food coloring: added to meat products to maintain the bright red color and luster of meat, to give it a unique flavor (like cured meat and sausage) and make them look more appealing;
3. Preserve the taste of meat: when meat is stored for an extended period of time, oxidization will cause the meat to become rancid. The nitrates and nitrites can delay the process of oxidative rancidity and hence preserving the taste of meat.
Impacts on Health
1. According to the prescribed standards laid down by the Codex Alimentarius Commission, nitrites are legal food additives allowed for use in the processing of cured and smoked meat. When nitrites are used according to prescribed standards, they will not cause health hazard to human body;
2. Unreasonable intake of large quantity of nitrates or nitrites can possibly lead to septicaemia, causing bluish coloring of the skin. Newborn babies and persons with glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase deficiency are usually prone to these hazards if they consume a large amount;
3. The public should maintain a balanced diet and avoid excessive consumption. Cured foods contain relatively large amount of salt for seasoning purpose, which could cause high blood pressure and cardiovascular diseases upon excessive intake.
Safety tips for the public
l Buy from reputable and licensed shops and never from unlicensed hawkers. Do not buy cured meat of unknown origin;
l Cured meat is usually vacuum-packed or sold in bulk;
l In the case of vacuum-packed cured meat, the package is air-tight and thus the shelf life of the cured meat is relatively longer. Check the package and label upon purchase:
Ø Check whether the package remains intact and undamaged;
Ø The label should clearly indicate the name of the product, information of the manufacturer, product’s net weight, origin, best-before date, ingredients, lot number, etc;
l Upon purchase of bulk cured meat, choose those that have a dry clean surface, and are natural and uniform in color, with no objectionable smell nor moldy. The fatty meat should be milk-white in color.
l Remove the colored string from the cured meat before cooking;
l Make sure that the cured meat is thoroughly cooked or steamed before consumption.
3. Correct storage method
l Place the cured meat properly inside food storage bags or containers and then store it in the refrigerator;
l Do not eat cured meat that is moldy or has an objectionable smell;
l Consume cured meat as soon as possible, or within the expiry date.