The UK's food standards agency wants to set UK targets for levels of salt in a wide range of foods following growing concern over salt intake.
A consultation on the proposals been published, and tables of commitments from over 50 food companies and trade associations to reduce salt in a variety of foods have been updated.
The agency wants to consult widely with food manufacturers, retailers, trade associations, caterers and consumer groups to establish views on the food categories for which targets have been proposed. These include targets for levels of salt in foods and how the agency intends to assess progress by the food industry towards meeting these targets.
These activities are designed to contribute towards achieving the government's average population salt intake targets of 6g per day by 2010, as set out in the Agency's Strategic Plan and the Government White Paper, Choosing Health.
The move comes after growing concern that prepared foods contain far too much salt. A recent Food Magazine survey for example revealed high levels of salt where consumers might least expect to find it - in desserts, cakes and biscuits.
The survey found Angel Delight chocolate dessert containing half a gram of salt in each serving; Marks & Spencer lemon sponge puddings containing 1.3 grams of salt per portion; a Boots triple-chocolate cookie containing 0.8g of salt, and a Rumblers Bio yogurt and cereal pot containing a hefty 3.2g of salt per portion.
The government recommendation is that adults should eat no more than 6g of salt per day to maintain health, with children eating proportionally less depending on their age.
"The level of salt contained in these desserts is another example of the food industry hiding high levels of salt in food," said Dr Emma Mast, project coordinator for CASH, an academic network campaigning for salt reduction in processed foods, for the good of heart health.
"People might expect desserts to contain significant levels of fat or sugar but they would not expect them to contain so much salt."
However Food and Drink Federation deputy director general, Martin Paterson insisted that the food industry was just as concerned about reducing salt levels.
"Claims that the industry hides salt in food are inaccurate, misleading and unhelpful to consumers," he said.
"The food manufacturing industry is committed to continuing to reduce levels of salt in products and providing lower salt options where technologically possible, safe and acceptable to consumers. We will continue to work with the Food Standards Agency and the Department of Health to help achieve sodium reductions in our diets and to increase consumer choice."
The FSA wants all responses to the salt consultation to be sent by the 24 October 2005.