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Foods -- General

What is saltpeter and how is it used?

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Saltpeter is potassium or sodium nitrate. Ingestion of large quantities may cause violent gastroenteritis. Prolonged exposure to small amounts may produce anemia, or nephritis. It is used in fireworks, fluxes, pickling meats, manufacture of glass, matches, gunpowder, blasting powder, freezing mixtures, impregnating candle wicks, treating tobacco to make it burn evenly and tempering steel. In food, it is used in salt curing of meats. It is used in small quantities because it prevents the growth of C. botulinum.

PREPARED BY: Angela M. Fraser, Ph.D., Associate Professor/Food Safety Specialist, and Carolyn J. Lackey, Ph.D., R.D., L.D.N., Professor/Food and Nutrition Specialist, North Carolina State University (August 2004)

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