Nitrite and nitrate are food preservatives not allowed in fresh meat preparations. Two hundred fresh meat samples were analysed to evaluate the natural presence of nitrite and nitrate and estimate the maximum concentrations to considerate as ‘natural’ and to admit in fresh meat preparations. The analyses were carried out by a validated ion chromatography method, and the ‘positive’ samples were confirmed by an alternative ion chromatography method. Nitrite residues were not detected. Quantifiable nitrate concentrations, ranging from 10.2 to 36.5 mg kg−1, were found in nineteen samples. In chicken meat samples, nitrate residues were not detected. Taking into account the distribution of nitrate concentrations, it is possible to suggest a maximum admissible limit of 30.0 mg kg−1 in beef and pork meats; in equine meats, this limit may be increased to 40.0 mg kg−1. Below these values, the samples can be considered as ‘compliant’.