CASH blasts food industry on salt levels (again)

By Elaine Watson

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Salt content Food Bread

The food industry has been blasted by lobby group CASH (Consensus Action on Salt & Health) for the fifth time this year, this time for adding dangerously high levels of salt to barbecue foods.

According to CASH, which surveyed the salt content of more than 603 burgers, sausages, crisps, salads and dips from supermarkets and big brands, a typical barbecue meal could contain more than 12g of salt, more than double the daily recommended maximum of 6g a day.

For example, one Tesco Barbecue 4 Beef Ultimate Burger in a Warburtons large white bread roll with a cheese slice from The Cooperative and a squirt of HP Original BBQ Sauce Classic contained 4g of salt or two-thirds of the daily maximum – before ‘sides’ such as crisps or salads were even taken into consideration, said CASH.

The survey also highlighted big discrepancies in the salt content between equivalent products at different retailers and manufacturers.

For example, a 15g serving of Tesco Genuine American Mustard contained 0.6g of salt, whereas the same amount of Asda's Squeezy American Mustard contained just 0.36g of salt.

“The fact that some manufacturers can keep the salt content right down in these foods highlights how unnecessary it is for the rest to have such a high salt content," ​said CASH chairman Professor Graham MacGregor.

Mubeen Bhutta, policy manager at the British Heart Foundation, added: "This survey just proves that the European Parliament made a huge mistake this week by not voting to make food labels with traffic light colours compulsory."

Working towards FSA 2012 targets

However, the supermarkets insisted that they had all made significant progress in reducing salt across their product ranges, with Tesco claiming to have met 2010 FSA salt targets for 98% of its products and Morrisons claiming to have hit FSA 2010 targets for 90% of its products.

The Co-operative Group, meanwhile, said that it had already reached the FSA’s more challenging 2012 salt targets in a number of key 'barbecue' areas including pizza, bread and rolls, salt & vinegar snacks, ketchup and brown sauce.

MSG – the ultimate salt replacer?

Salt reduction work is also continuing apace, according to a report​ just published by Leatherhead Food Research, which provides a comprehensive analysis of the available salt replacement and enhancement options, and also highlights some exciting research looking at how fat levels, viscosity and other factors such as saliva production impact salt perception.

For example, using starch-based thickeners might be preferable to using other thickeners such as HPMC (hydroxypropyl methylcellulose) in certain applications as they dilute more easily in saliva, noted LFR.

“Solid foods need to be properly chewed and mixed with our saliva in order for the salt to reach our taste buds and to prevent the salt from being swallowed without being tasted. When developing products, we should account for this.”

Research had also highlighted how altering fat levels in cheese had some interesting effects on salt perception and aroma release.

Meanwhile, progress had also been made on reducing the undesirable aftertaste associated with some salt replacers, with ingredients such as trehalose​ (a non-reducing disaccharide) also proving particularly effective at enhancing the saltiness of sodium chloride as well as eliminating metallic, bitter and astringent notes, said LFR.

Interestingly, one of the most effective means of reducing salt without reducing saltiness was adding MSG (monosodium glutamate), said LFR.

However, clean-labelling initiatives probably exclude many firms from exploring this option given the negative press associated with this particular ingredient.

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