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UK food industry comes together to answer big questions in salt reduction

By Nathan Gray , 19-Dec-2011

Leading members of the UK food industry have announced a partnership to fund and deliver a new comprehensive report on reformulation and sodium reduction methods.

The partnership between the UK’s Food and Drink Federation (FDF), the British Retail Consortium (BRC), and Leatherhead Food Research – due to begin this month – will tackle the issue of salt reduction in foods by assessing the goals already achieved by industry in the UK, and reviewing the methods on offer to help industry ‘take its next steps.’

Speaking with FoodNavigator, Kate Halliwell, nutrition manager at the FDF said the final report will be a free resource, and is expected to be published in around May 2012. While the report is focused on the UK food industry its findings will support food manufacturers globally in the quest for sodium reduction, she confirmed.

Reducing sodium levels in foods through reformulation is an “ongoing process” within the industry, claimed Halliwell. She said that the UK has had a salt reduction programme for many years, noting that many of the most popular brands have already lowered sodium contents.

“In a way, that’s why it’s now getting really quite challenging,” said Halliwell.

“The reduction programme has been going on for so long that the easier targets – the low hanging fruit if you like – have gone. Now it’s a real challenge,” she said.

Terry Jones, communications director for the FDF added that the partnership demonstrates a food chain-wide commitment to increase consumer choice and maximise the use of reformulation as a tool to improve public health.

"While food manufacturers have already invested heavily and made great strides in salt reformulation, this partnership demonstrates our industry's keenness to find solutions to continue this good work,” he said.

Salt challenge

Excess dietary sodium intake has been linked to the development of hypertension, cardiovascular disease and other health problems. Because of this, reducing the sodium content in food products has become a major issue for the processed-food sector.

However, Dr Paul Berryman, CEO of Leatherhead Food Research, explained that reducing salt in foods is “a complex issue.”

“Salt reduction sounds easy, but it isn't!” said Berryman, adding that the effects of salt reduction on food safety and shelf life are a particular worry.

“Salt is a traditional preservative, so we will be checking for unintended consequences, like unwanted bacterial growth,” he confirmed.

Halliwell echoed Berryman, noting that if salt plays a functional role in food, “that’s where it become’s really difficult.”

For example, she said that reducing sodium levels can impact the growth of yeast, and the functionality of gluten in bread and bakery preparations: “In that example we will need a solution that will allow the dough to rise properly ... Whilst in other areas it might be for microbial safety for example,” she explained.

Research plans

Halliwell said that Leatherhead would perform the research work with assistance from the UK food industry via the FDF and BRC.

She explained that in addition to providing an overall view on salt reduction methods, which will incorporate the latest methods from industry and academic literature – the project will also focus especially on applications for the key areas including meat and meat products, bread and morning goods, cheeses, extruded snacks, cakes and pastries, thick sauces, and canned fish.

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