"Our assessment concludes that, for all age groups of the EU population, the level of exposure to nitrosamines in food is a health concern," Dieter Schrenk, chair of the Panel on Contaminants in the Food Chain, said in a statement.

In total, at least ten nitrosamines in food are carcinogenic (likely to cause cancer) and genotoxic (likely to damage DNA), conclude the authors of this study.

"Based on animal studies, we considered the incidence of liver tumours in rodents to be the most critical health effect," Schrenk adds.

In particular, nitrosamines have been found in different types of food, such as sausages and cured meats, processed fish, cocoa, beer and other alcoholic beverages. The most important food group that contributes to nitrosamine exposure is meat and meat products, the study explains.

Nitrosamines can also be found in other foods, including processed vegetables, grains, milk and dairy products, or fermented, pickled or spicy foods.

The study's designers, however, concede that they still face "gaps in the available knowledge on the presence of nitrosamines in specific food categories".

In addition, "to ensure a high level of consumer protection, we developed the worst-case scenario in our risk assessment. We assumed that all nitrosamines in food have the same carcinogenic potential in humans as the most harmful nitrosamine, although this is unlikely," Schrenk said.

Balancing one's diet with a wider variety of foods could help consumers reduce their consumption of nitrosamines, recommends EFSA, whose opinion will be shared with the European Commission, which will discuss with national authorities the risk management measures required.

© 2023 AFP