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Dear Dr. Seuss, here's why your ham was green

OU researchers look at whether green color sometimes seen in meat is harmful
From staff reports Published: May 16, 2012

The green color sometimes seen in bacon was a topic of recent research at the University of Oklahoma.

OU scientists recently looked at whether the structure of the green pigment, sometimes referred to as “nitrite burn,” was a cause of concern in regards to human consumption.

One of the lead researchers, George Richter-Addo, a chemistry professor at OU, said for centuries, nitrites have been used as a preservative to keep meats fresh.

However, little is known about whether nitrites are harmful to humans, he said.

Although nitrites have their positives — giving meat its fresh color, adding flavor and killing toxic bacteria like botulism — when used improperly, nitrites can create cancer-causing chemicals, according to an OU news release.

Through their research, the OU scientists discovered that the green pigment seen in nitrite-cured bacon and other meats is because of an unusual chemical reaction of nitrites with myoglobin, a meat protein responsible for the majority of the red color found in meat.

The next step for the OU researchers will be to determine the effects of “nitrite burn.”

“No one really knows if ‘nitrite burn' is bad for you or not because there is so little information about the physiological effects on humans,” said researcher George Richter-Addo, OU professor of chemistry, in a statement.

“But, we have discovered that a simple chemical process, which inhibits the flow of oxygen in the blood and degrades the blood protein hemoglobin, causes the blood to turn from red to green. Identifying the degraded blood components allowed us to characterize the related green pigment seen in bacon and other meats.”


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