Processed Meat in NHS Hospitals

The Guardian highlighted this year that 61 NHS trusts in England, including specialist cancer and children’s hospitals, are serving processed meat to patients. This is despite well established and growing evidence internationally which implicate processed meats in the development of cancer. The WHO (2015) classified processed meat as a Group 1 carcinogen (cancer-causing), meaning that there is sufficient evidence from epidemiological studies that eating processed meat causes bowel cancer. Further, it has been estimated that about 34,000 cancer deaths per year worldwide are attributable to diets high in processed meat (WHO, 2015).  Processed meats are carcinogenic because they contain nitrates and nitrites. Nitrates and nitrites salts are added to processed meat to extend shelf life and preserve colour and to prevent the growth of Clostridium botulinum, which is responsible for botulism. Nitrates and nitrites when ingested form a group of compounds called nitrosamines, some of which are carcinogenic (Eufic, 2022). There is no identified safe level of processed meat for consumption, and therefore The World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF) (2022) advises to avoid consumption completely. WCRF (2022) also advises that although popular and prevalent, ultra processed meat-free alternatives to processed meats, due to being high in salt and fat, are not beneficial alternatives and should be consumed minimally. 


For more information regarding processed meat and cancer risk, please see this patient information leaflet from WCRF, which can be downloaded and shared in hospitals and GP surgeries. 




Eufic, 2022. 


Guardian, 2023.


WCRF, 2022.

WHO, 2015. 


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