The aim of this study is to investigate the effect of sodium nitrite (NaNO2) on protein oxidation and the use of 3-nitrotyrosine (3NT) as a protein oxidation marker in suspensions of the food protein. Food proteins, namely bovine serum albumin, casein, and myofibrillar protein, were suspended in 100 mM sodium phosphate buffer and nitrated with 25 mu M iron (III) chloride, 2.5 mM hydrogen peroxide, and 150 mg/kg NaNO2 at 37 degrees C for a period of 24 hr. The food protein suspensions were analyzed at different sampling periods for the loss of tryptophan (TRY) residues as well as the formation of Schiff bases (SBs), protein carbonyls, 3NT, and dityrosine (DT). It was found that NaNO2 has pro-oxidant activity in NaNO2-added food protein suspensions due to the increased amounts of SBs, protein carbonyls, 3NT, and DT as well as decreased TRY fluorescence. Positive correlations between the 3NT and other protein oxidation markers except for TRY fluorescence were found in NaNO2-added food protein suspensions. In conclusion, these findings on the detection of 3NT indicate that it might be a useful tool as a new protein oxidation biomarker in food samples. Practical applications Sodium nitrite (NaNO2) supports protein oxidation in different food protein suspension. 3-nitrotyrosine (3NT) was found in food protein suspensions and can be a potential biomarker for protein nitration in food sample due to potential relationship between 3NT and other oxidation markers. The results showed that this study has formed novel insight into interaction between NaNO2 and food proteins and indicate that it might affect the food quality and its nutritional value. Moreover, the relationship between protein oxidation/nitration and food quality as well as the comprehension of the scientific and technological meaning of these phenomena has been hindered because of the lack of knowledge about the basic chemistry behind the protein oxidation and nitration pathways. For the clarification of these phenomena, further studies are still needed.