Nitrates (NO3) and nitrites (NO2) are chemicals that are used widely as preservatives in processed meats. Nitrates are compounds that are found everywhere: in water, plants, soil an even in raw meat.
Nitrites are active ingredients that are used as food additives to extend the shelf life and to give the typical pink color of cured meats. When using nitrates as food additives, they have to be converted to nitrite before it can have any effect.
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