One in four savoury picnic foods, such as sausage rolls, pasties and quiches, are high in salt, according to research from campaign group Action on Salt (AOS).

The research, which analysed 555 savoury picnic foods available from retailers, found the average picnic basket could contain more than 5g of salt, with a quarter of savoury food items qualifying for a red label on the front of pack.

In response, AOS is calling for immediate compulsory front-of-pack nutritional labelling on all picnic savouries and comprehensive salt reduction targets to be set in 2020.

The move comes just over a week after AOS and Action on Sugar called on the government to introduce a calorie levy on all calorie-dense processed foods, such as cake and biscuits.

While olives were some of the saltiest items found by the research, Ginsters’ Large Cornish Pasty was also highlighted as a “salt offender” with 2.99g of salt per 272g portion – the equivalent to seven portions of salted peanuts, according to AOS. However, per 100g the pasty has 1.1g of salt, putting it in the middle of the table as far as salt content is concerned.

“All nutritional information is clearly labelled on our packaging so people can make choices which are right for them and their lifestyles,” said a Ginsters of Cornwall spokesperson. “Our 272g Cornish Pasties are designed to provide a substantial complete meal for lunch or dinner, rather than a light finger food snack option… We recommend they are enjoyed on-the-go or at home as part of healthy, balanced diet.”

At the other end of the table, Scotch eggs and quiche had the lowest average salt content of 0.76g and 0.54g per 100g, respectively.

“This survey highlights how easy it is for consumers to unknowingly eat huge amounts of salt and saturated fat hidden in savoury snacks and picnic favourites,” said Mhairi Brown, nutritionist at AOS.

“Food manufacturers must get on board in our efforts to improve the nation’s health. We found a large variation in the salt content of product categories, proving reformulation is easily achievable. We want to see the food industry disclosing nutritional information clearly on front of pack on all products so everyone can easily find healthier options.”

“Significant variation in salt content”

The industry had been working towards salt reduction targets that were set in 2014 to be met by 2017. However, Public Health England (PHE) revealed that many of these targets had not been met.

Further research by AOS found half of the products were higher in salt than their average salt targets and 17% had more than their maximum salt target.

“Due to inaction by the Department of Health and Social Care and Public Health England in enforcing the 2017 salt reduction targets, the public are still eating more salt than recommended,” said Graham MacGregor, professor of cardiovascular medicine at Queen Mary University of London and chair of AOS.

“Reducing salt is one of the most cost-effective measures to protect health. The time has come for the secretary of state for health to resuscitate the UK’s salt reduction programme, helping us to, once again, be world-leading rather than trailing behind the rest of the world.”