Assessment of the combined nitrate and nitrite exposure from food and drinking water: application of uncertainty around the nitrate to nitrite conversion factor

Annick D. van den Brand, Marja Beukers, Maryse Niekerk, Gerda van Donkersgoed, Monique van der Aa, Bianca van de Ven, Astrid Bulder, Hilko van der Voet, Corinne R. Sprong*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)


Dietary exposure to nitrate and nitrite occurs via three main sources; occurrence in (vegetable) foods, food additives in certain processed foods and contaminants in drinking water. While nitrate can be converted to nitrite in the human body, their risk assessment is usually based on single substance exposure in different regulatory frameworks. Here, we assessed the long-term combined exposure to nitrate and nitrite from food and drinking water. Dutch monitoring data (2012–2018) and EFSA data from 2017 were used for concentration data. These were combined with data from the Dutch food consumption survey (2012–2016) to assess exposure. A conversion factor (median 0.023; range 0.008–0.07) was used to express the nitrate exposure in nitrite equivalents which was added to the nitrite exposure. The uncertainty around the conversion factor was taken into account by using conversion factors randomly sampled from the abovementioned range. The combined dietary exposure was calculated for the Dutch population (1–79 years) with different exposure scenarios to address regional differences in nitrate and nitrite concentrations in drinking water. All scenarios resulted in a combined exposure above the acceptable daily intake for nitrite ion (70 µg/kg bw), with the mean exposure varying between 95–114 µg nitrite/kg bw/day in the different scenarios. Of all ages, the combined exposure was highest in children aged 1 year with an average of 250 µg nitrite/kg bw/day. Vegetables contributed most to the combined exposure in food in all scenarios, varying from 34%–41%. Food additive use contributed 8%–9% to the exposure and drinking water contributed 3%–19%. Our study is the first to perform a combined dietary exposure assessment of nitrate and nitrite while accounting for the uncertain conversion factor. Such a combined exposure assessment overarching different regulatory frameworks and using different scenarios for drinking water is a better instrument for protecting human health than single substance exposure.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)568-582
JournalFood Additives and Contaminants - Part A Chemistry, Analysis, Control, Exposure and Risk Assessment
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 16 Jan 2020


  • conversion factor
  • drinking water
  • exposure assessment
  • food additives
  • Nitrate
  • nitrite

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