The chemical compound sodium nitrate
, the nitrate
with chemical formula NaNO3
, is a preservative
that prevents botulism
. It also undergoes a series of chemical reactions in meat that impart a red color, making meat appear fresh even when it is not. It is only used in canned meat, not ground beef or steak
. Sodium nitrate is not found in canned tuna
because it would make them pink. However, it is found in canned salmon
. In the stomach
, sodium nitrate produces a harmful compound called nitrosamine. Nitrosamine causes cancer
in lab rats. Some people suggest that children and pregnant women should avoid this chemical, but the FDA
has taken no action to enforce this.
Sodium nitrate has long been used as an ingredient in explosives, and has been mined extensively for that purpose. The world's largest deposits were in the Atacama
desert of Chile
, and these were mined for over a century, until the 1940s.