The survey was conducted by Teagasc, the national body which provides research, advisory and training services to the food industry.Teagasc is involved in researching ways to reduce the salt and fat content of processed meats as well as minimising the use of additives, and took the samples as part of this PROSSLOW project. "Before reducing fat and salt content, it is paramount to establish the benchmark levels for these products, not only according to the regulatory authorities’ guidelines, but also to determine the current mean industry levels," it said.
It purchased 30 different cooked ham products and 36 bacon products from Irish retailers.
One quarter of the bacon samples were over guidelines set by the Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) despite the fact that the nutrition label on every product said the salt content was equal to or below FSAI guidelines. The salt content in some products around 50% higher than the label suggested.
There were wide variations in the salt content of bacon according to the brand, ranging from 1.24% to 4.71% with an average content of 2.53%.
Half of the ham samples contained salt that was above the guidelines.
However, the variation in salt levels suggests that it is technically possible to make further reductions in salt, said Teagasc. “The observation that some retail products had salt levels below the guidelines suggests that the task can be accomplished. The strategy to follow varies depending on the product and composition.”
The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends that adults should have less than 5 g of salt per day but the mean daily intake for Irish adults is 7.4 g according to 2011 figures.
Meat and meat products are the biggest sources of high quality protein and vitamin D in the Irish diet, but they are also the biggest sources of fat and energy, according to the National Adult Nutrition Survey from 2011.