WASH, a global network consisting principally of public health experts, conducted the research to coincide with last week’s World Salt Awareness Week. It examined salt and sodium content in over 500 pizza products, including those from the larger brands such as Pizza Hut, Domino’s, Eagle Boys and Papa John’s, sourced both from their own outlets and other retailers.
“It would be a fantastic opportunity for multinational brands like this to implement global salt reduction policies,” said Katharine Jenner, campaign director at the UK’s Consensus Action on Salt and Health (CASH), part of the WASH network. “It’s been recognised by the World Health Organisation that this is one of the major ways in which the impact of cardiovascular disease can be reduced. We need the larger brands to set an example internationally – one that will then filter down to the smaller national brands.”
But sodium levels were highly inconsistent, with a Hawaiian Pizza from Pizza Hut in New Zealand containing twice the sodium of the brand’s same pizza in Canada.
Salt levels in the company’s UK pizzas have also been reduced. As WASH project co-ordinator Clare Farrand put it: “If Pizza Hut can provide the UK with lower-salt pizzas, why can’t the rest of the world have them too?”
Similar inconsistencies were uncovered in Domino’s pizzas, with a US-bought Hawaiian pizza containing 0.97g sodium per 100g, compared with 0.4g per 100g in the UK.
In the UK, too, there were significant variations between brands. A Diavolo pizza from national chain Pizza Express was shown to have around three times the sodium of a Tesco’s own-brand Mediterranean vegetable pizza.
A spokeswoman for Pizza Express said: “We take salt content very seriously, and are one of the few high-street restaurant chains to have signed up to the UK government’s Public Health Responsibility Deal, specifically the salt reduction pledge.”
According to WASH, some 40 UK-based organisations including the major retailers and brandowners such as Unilever and Nestlé have signed up to this pledge. But far fewer out-of-home brandowners have made the commitment.
Pizza Express explains that, while previous Food Standards Agency (FSA) objectives were couched in terms of individual products, with a 1.2g of salt per 100g target to aim for, the Department of Health is now aiming for a 1g of salt per person per day reduction on 2007 levels by the end of 2012.
The chain claims that one third of its classic pizzas meet the FSA’s 1.2g of salt target. But the spokeswoman added: “A lot of the ingredients used in specific pizzas – such as anchovies, olives and the cured meat in the Diavolo pizza reported by WASH – are naturally high in salt.”