Provision Trade Federation (PTF) director general Clare Cheney was responding to criticism from CASH earlier this week of all supermarkets and their suppliers for failing to meet the 2012 salt reduction targets for ham and other cured meats under the Public Health Responsibility Deal.
Cheney, who represents the interests of ham, bacon and processed meat suppliers, as well as those of specialist cheese producers, said: “From the word go, we were concerned about the effect on the safety of ham if the salt content was reduced.” However, she noted that research was still underway to come up with ways of reducing salt further.
‘Serious safety risks’
“CASH has got to accept that there are serious safety risks and that the industry is not prepared to take those risks,” she added.
She claimed that both retailers and their suppliers were working hard to reduce salt levels in these products, but they were constrained by food safety considerations since salt helped to inhibit the growth of the potentially fatal pathogen Clostridium botulinum. “From the information we have, we don’t think it would be safe for anybody to meet these salt reduction targets.”
She referred to research from the Institute of Food Research dating back to 2005, which had raised similar concerns. Cheney noted that this study had concluded: “Failure to understand product reformulation can have deadly consequences.”
Cheney also rejected CASH’s suggestion that supermarkets could reduce the shelf-life of ham and cured meats to accommodate a reduction of in salt content since this would increase waste to an unacceptable level. “It’s not an acceptable solution,” said Cheney.
‘One for the supermarkets’
However, she acknowledged that the shelf-life had been reduced for bacon to permit salt reduction and added that any decision on the shelf-life reduction of ham and cured meat would ultimately be one for supermarkets themselves to take.
When the first 2010 salt reduction targets were set for ham and other cured meats by the Food Standards Agency, suppliers warned about the food safety risks, said Cheney. And the industry never agreed to the even lower 2012 targets, she added. “We weren’t consulted.”
More recently, at meeting with the Department of Health in July, representatives have continued to raise the food safety concerns about salt reduction in these products.
The preservation of ham and bacon have also been influenced by a European Commission decision in 2008 to reduce the amount of nitrites allowed in these products. “Salt and nitrite are key variables in the production of ham and the result of reducing both at the same time is difficult to predict,” said Cheney.