The chemistry of nitrosation of amines in foods is a complex process in which oxides of nitrogen (in oxidation states + 3 and + 4) formed during food processing, preservation, and preparation can react with amino compounds and other nucleophiles to produce N-, C-, 0-, and S-nitroso compounds. The two major sources of oxides of nitrogen (nitro-sating agents) result from (1) the addition of nitrate and/ or nitrite to foods and (2) the heating and/or drying of foods in combustion gases in which molecular nitrogen can be oxidized to oxides of nitrogen. The only common feature of all 7V-nitroso compounds is the presence of the N-N = 0 functional group. Consequently, a wide range of chemical and physical properties exist for iV-nitroso compounds, depending on the substitution on the amine/amide nitrogen.

The occurrence of iV-nitroso compounds in foodstuffs probably represents the most comprehensively researched exposure situation for any class of genotoxic carcinogenic compounds in the human diet due to the possible link between various human cancers and exposure to iV-nitroso compounds (1). Almost 80% of all 2V-nitroso compounds tested induce cancer in experimental animals, and some representative compounds of this class induce cancer in at least 40 different animal species including higher primates (2). Tumors induced in experimental animals resemble their human counterparts with respect to both morphological and biochemical properties. Extensive experimental and some epidemiological data suggest that humans are susceptible to carcinogenesis by AT-nitroso compounds (1,3).

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