Health for humans, animals & plants

National nitrate control program for spinach, lettuce and arugula

Final report of the priority action A-902-17

The aim of the focus action was to check the nitrate content of vegetables (especially green leafy vegetables), which can contain significant levels of nitrate. 82 samples from all over Austria were examined. Three samples were objected to due to exceeding the maximum permissible content for nitrate:

  • two samples of spinach/fresh (sample drawing period March/April) and
  • one sample of arugula (sample drawn in September).

Nitrates are nitrogen compounds that occur naturally in the soil. However, they are also a component of fertilizers and enter the soil in this way. Nitrate serves plants as a nutrient and is an important growth factor. Nitrite can be formed from nitrate in food or even in the body: Nitrite converts the red blood pigment hemoglobin into methemoglobin. Unlike hemoglobin, methemoglobin cannot bind oxygen and transport it to the tissues - this leads to oxygen deficiency in the tissues.

In the European Union, there are fixed maximum levels for nitrate in spinach and lettuce. Since climatic conditions and the cultivation method have a significant influence on the nitrate content, different maximum levels have been set depending on the season (harvest in winter/summer) or cultivation method (under film/glass, open field).

Last updated: 18.07.2022

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