Sodium nitrite

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Sodium nitrite
Sodium nitrite
The sodium cation
The nitrite anion (space-filling model)
3D model (JSmol)
ECHA InfoCard 100.028.687
EC Number 231-555-9
E number E250 (preservatives)
RTECS number RA1225000
UN number 1500
Molar mass 68.9953 g/mol
Appearance white or slightly yellowish solid
Density 2.168 g/cm3
Melting point 271 °C (520 °F; 544 K)
84.8 g/100 mL (25 °C)
Solubility soluble in methanol (4.4 g/100 mL)
slightly soluble in diethyl ether (0.3 g/100 mL)
very soluble in ammonia
Acidity (pKa) ~9
−359 kJ·mol−1[1]
Oxidizing Agent O Toxic T Dangerous for the Environment (Nature) N
R-phrases (outdated) R8, R25, R50
S-phrases (outdated) (S1/2), S45, S61
NFPA 704
Lethal dose or concentration (LD, LC):
180 mg/kg (rats, oral)
Related compounds
Other anions
Lithium nitrite
Sodium nitrate
Other cations
Potassium nitrite
Ammonium nitrite
Except where otherwise noted, data are given for materials in their standard state (at 25 °C [77 °F], 100 kPa).
☑Y verify (what is ☑Y☒N ?)
Infobox references

Sodium nitrite is the inorganic compound with the chemical formula NaNO2. It is a white to slight yellowish crystalline powder that is very soluble in water and is hygroscopic. It is a useful precursor to a variety of organic compounds, such as pharmaceuticals, dyes, and pesticides, but it is probably best known as a food additive to prevent botulism.


The salt is prepared by treating sodium hydroxide with mixtures of nitrogen dioxide and nitric oxide:

2 NaOH + NO2 + NO → 2 NaNO2 + H2O

The conversion is sensitive to the presence of oxygen, which can lead to varying amounts of sodium nitrate.

In former times, sodium nitrite was prepared by reduction of sodium nitrate with various metals.[2]

Chemical reactions

In the laboratory, sodium nitrite can be used to destroy excess sodium azide.[3][4]

2 NaN3 + 2 Na NO2 + 2 H+ → 3 N2 + 2 NO + 2 Na+ + 2 H2O

At high temperatures, sodium nitrite decomposes to sodium oxide, nitrogen(II) oxide and oxygen.


Industrial chemistry

The main use of sodium nitrite is for the industrial production of organonitrogen compounds. It is a reagent for conversion of amines into diazo compounds, which are key precursors to many dyes, such as diazo dyes. Nitroso compounds are produced from nitrites. These are used in the rubber industry.[2]

Other applications include uses in photography. It may also be used as an electrolyte in electrochemical grinding manufacturing processes, typically diluted to about 10% concentration in water. It is used in a variety of metallurgical applications, for phosphatizing and detinning.

Sodium nitrite is an effective corrosion inhibitor and is used as an additive in industrial greases,[5] as an aqueous solution in closed loop cooling systems, and in a molten state as a heat transfer medium.[6]


Sodium nitrite can be used as part of an intravenous mixture to treat cyanide poisoning. However it has now been made obsolete by hydroxocobalamin if this newer medicine is available.

There is also research to investigate its applicability towards treatments for heart attacks, brain aneurysms, pulmonary hypertension in infants, and Pseudomonas aeruginosa infections.[7][8]

Food additive

In the early 1900s, irregular curing was commonplace. This led to further research surrounding the use of sodium nitrite as an additive in food, standardizing the amount present in foods to minimize the amount needed while maximizing its food additive role.[9] Through this research, sodium nitrite has been found to inhibit growth of disease-causing microorganisms; give taste and color to the meat; and inhibit lipid oxidation that leads to rancidity.[9] The ability of sodium nitrite to address the above mentioned issues has led to production of meat with improved food safety, extended storage life and improving desirable color/taste.[9] In the European Union it may be used only as a mixture with salt containing at most 0.6% sodium nitrite. It has the E number E250. Potassium nitrite (E249) is used in the same way. It is approved for usage in the EU,[10] USA[11] and Australia and New Zealand.[12]

Inhibition of microbial growth

Sodium nitrite is well known for its role in inhibiting the growth of Clostridium botulinum spores in refrigerated meats.[13] The mechanism for this activity results from the inhibition of iron-sulfur clusters essential to energy metabolism of Clostridium botulinum.[13] However, sodium nitrite has had varying degrees of effectiveness for controlling growth of other spoilage or disease causing microorganisms.[9] Even though the inhibitory mechanisms for sodium nitrite are not well known, its effectiveness depends on several factors including residual nitrite level, pH, salt concentration, reductants present and iron content.[14] Furthermore, the type of bacteria also affects sodium nitrites effectiveness.[14] It is generally agreed upon that sodium nitrite is not considered effective for controlling gram-negative enteric pathogens such as Salmonella and Escherichia coli.[14]

Taste and color

The appearance and taste of meat is an important component of consumer acceptance.[9] Sodium nitrite is responsible for the desirable red color (or shaded pink) of meat.[9] Very little nitrite is needed to induce this change.[9] Its been reported that as little as 2 to 14 parts per million (ppm), is needed to induce this desirable color change.[14] However, in order to extend the life-span of this color change significantly higher levels are needed.[14] The mechanism responsible for this color change is by formation of nitrosylating agents by nitrite, which has the ability to transfer nitric oxide that subsequently reacts with myoglobin to produce the cured meat color.[14] The unique taste associated with meat cured is also affected by the addition of sodium nitrite.[9] However, the mechanism underlying this change in taste is still not fully understood.[14]

Inhibition of lipid oxidation

Sodium nitrite is also able to effectively delay the development of oxidative rancidity.[14] Lipid oxidation is considered to be a major reason for the deterioration of quality of meat products (rancidity and unappetizing flavors).[14] Sodium nitrite acts as an antioxidant in a mechanism similar to the one responsible for the coloring affect.[14] Nitrite reacts with heme proteins and metal ions, chelating free radicals by nitric oxide (one of its byproducts).[14] Chelation of these free radicals terminates the cycle of lipid oxidation that leads to rancidity.[14]


While this chemical will prevent the growth of bacteria, it can be toxic in high amounts for animals, including humans. Sodium nitrite's LD50 in rats is 180 mg/kg and its human LDLo is 71 mg/kg, meaning a 65 kg person would likely have to consume at least 4.615 g to result in death.[15] To prevent toxicity, sodium nitrite (blended with salt) sold as a food additive is dyed bright pink to avoid mistaking it for plain salt or sugar. Nitrites are a normal part of human diet, found in most vegetables.[16][17][18] Nitrite levels in 34 vegetable samples, including different varieties of cabbage, lettuce, spinach, parsley and turnips ranged between 1.1 and 57 mg/kg, e.g. white cauliflower (3.49 mg/kg) and green cauliflower (1.47 mg/kg).[16][19] Boiling vegetables lowers nitrate but not nitrite.[16] Fresh meat contains 0.4-0.5 mg/kg nitrite and 4–7 mg/kg of nitrate (10–30 mg/kg nitrate in cured meats).[18] The presence of nitrite in animal tissue is a consequence of metabolism of nitric oxide, an important neurotransmitter.[20] Nitric oxide can be created de novo from nitric oxide synthase utilizing arginine or from ingested nitrate or nitrite.[21] Most research on the negative effects of nitrites on humans predates the discovery of nitric oxide's importance to human metabolism and human endogenous metabolism of nitrite.[citation needed]

Humane toxin for feral hogs/wild boar control

Because of sodium nitrite's high level of toxicity to swine (Sus scrofa) it is now being developed in Australia to control feral pigs and wild boar.[22][23] The sodium nitrite induces methemoglobinemia in swine, i.e., it reduces the amount of oxygen that is released from hemoglobin, so the animal will feel faint and pass out, and then die in a humane manner after first being rendered unconscious.[24]


A principal concern about sodium nitrite is the formation of carcinogenic nitrosamines in meats containing sodium nitrite when meat is charred or overcooked. Such carcinogenic nitrosamines can also be formed from the reaction of nitrite with secondary amines under acidic conditions (such as occurs in the human stomach) as well as during the curing process used to preserve meats. Dietary sources of nitrosamines include US cured meats preserved with sodium nitrite as well as the dried salted fish eaten in Japan. In the 1920s, a significant change in US meat curing practices resulted in a 69% decrease in average nitrite content. This event preceded the beginning of a dramatic decline in gastric cancer mortality.[25] About 1970, it was found that ascorbic acid (vitamin C), an antioxidant, inhibits nitrosamine formation.[26] Consequently, the addition of at least 550 ppm of ascorbic acid is required in meats manufactured in the United States. Manufacturers sometimes instead use erythorbic acid, a cheaper but equally effective isomer of ascorbic acid. Additionally, manufacturers may include alpha-tocopherol (vitamin E) to further inhibit nitrosamine production. Alpha-tocopherol, ascorbic acid, and erythorbic acid all inhibit nitrosamine production by their oxidation-reduction properties. Ascorbic acid, for example, forms dehydroascorbic acid when oxidized, which when in the presence of nitrous anhydride, a potent nitrosating agent formed from sodium nitrate, reduces the nitrous anhydride into nitric oxide.[27] Note that nitrous anhydride does not exist in vitro.[28]

Sodium nitrite consumption has also been linked to the triggering of migraines in individuals who already suffer from them.[29]

One study has found a correlation between highly frequent ingestion of meats cured with pink salt and the COPD form of lung disease. The study's researchers suggest that the high amount of nitrites in the meats was responsible; however, the team did not prove the nitrite theory. Additionally, the study does not prove that nitrites or cured meat caused higher rates of COPD, merely a link. The researchers did adjust for many of COPD's risk factors, but they commented they cannot rule out all possible unmeasurable causes or risks for COPD.[30][31]

Mechanism of action

Carcinogenic nitrosamines are formed when amines that occur naturally in food react with sodium nitrite found in cured meat products.

R2NH (amines) + NaNO2 (sodium nitrite) → R2N-N=O (nitrosamine)

In the presence of acid (such as in the stomach) or heat (such as via cooking), nitrosamines are converted to diazonium ions.

R2N-N=O (nitrosamine) + (acid or heat) → R-N2+ (diazonium ion)

Certain nitrosamines such as N-nitrosodimethylamine[32] and N-nitrosopyrrolidine[33] form carbocations that react with biological nucleophiles (such as DNA or an enzyme) in the cell.

R-N2+ (diazonium ion) → R+ (carbocation) + N2 (leaving group) + :Nu (biological nucleophiles) → R-Nu

If this nucleophilic substitution reaction occurs at a crucial site in a biomolecule, it can disrupt normal cell functioning leading to cancer or cell death.


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