Research commitments from food industry essential to reach salt targets

By Lindsey Partos

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Food

A lift in consumer demand persuades food makers to cut the salt in
their formulations, but ongoing research is essential to keep up
the pace of change, says Irish food authority.

In Ireland, as in the UK, food manufacturers and retailers ranging from snack makers to bread makers have made a range of key commitments​ by 2010 to reduce the quantity of salt in their food products.

Eating too much salt is a significant risk factor in developing high blood pressure, itself a cause, or contributing factor, to the world's number one killer, heart disease.

In 2003 coronary heart disease, strokes or other diseases of the circulatory system accounted for more premature deaths - 39 per cent - than cancer in Ireland.

Government authorities are convinced processed food firms can play a key role in reducing the risk.

The UK authorities estimate that processed foods, from soups and sauces to breakfast cereals and snacks, contribute a considerable 75 per cent to people's salt intakes.

Both the UK and Ireland recommend consumers aim for a daily salt-intake of 6g, regarded as an achievable target.

Removing, or reducing, salt- a key flavour enhancer and preservative - from a food product involves a set of challenges for any food maker clearly needing to recreate a product that will continue to appeal to the consumer.

And while the food industry is already busy tackling the challenges, Dr. Wayne Anderson, chief specialist Food Science at the Food Safety Authority of Ireland, is concerned that a barrier to achieving the 2010 targets could be the fading-out of research.

"I'm very, very pleased that the food industry has risen to the challenge of salt reduction with a series of solid commitments,"​ he says.

But a key challenge will be to keep up this same momentum of change until 2010. Everyone knows about the barriers in food formulations, but we do not know when they will be reached, he tells

Without the research, Dr. Anderson fears industry might reach the barriers in product development before consumers have hit the 6g a day target.

"Change must not come to a grinding halt,"​ he says.

Ingredients firms, claims the scientist, are making moves to help the industry and they can certainly contribute to fulfilling the commitments.

But on the subject of salt replacers, Dr. Anderson believes food makers should not be looking to simply replace salt (sodium chloride) with potassium chloride.

"We want to recalibrate the consumer palate to totally get rid of the salty taste,"​ he explains.

Consequently, we have told some sectors of the food industry - for example snack producers - that the potassium chloride option must only be a short time fixture in the food product.

Although for bread makers, we are totally against its use, he adds.

Dr. Anderson believes boosting consumer demand, and training the buyer's mind to always be conscious of salt, is ultimately the most powerful tool for change; and for encouraging food makers to adapt their formulations.

"Food manufacturers have now accepted to reduce salt because of growing consumer demand,"​ says the Irish food scientist.

We will continue to encourage consumers to raise the demand, he concludes.

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