Limits near for salt reduction levels

Food manufacturers are reaching their limits in salt reduction, according to the latest research.

An independent report, conducted by Leatherhead Food Research (LFR), highlighted potential techniques that could be used to lower salt levels in the future. These included small step reduction in salt, increasing the usage of highly flavoured spices, and the use of mineral salts such as potassium chloride.

The report, published by the British Retail Consortium (BRC) and Food and Drink Federation (FDF), revealed a need for further scientific research to verify such methods, including their safety for consumption and actual food trials.

Andrea Martinez-Inchausti, deputy food director at the BRC, said: “The UK leads the world in salt reduction and we are approaching the limit of what is currently possible. Producing foods with even less salt, but which go off too quickly or lack flavour, could simply result in consumers switching to higher-salt products. That’s no solution.

“Retailers take their commitment to public health extremely seriously and have invested their own money in this research, specifically to look for new ways of doing even better on salt. There is no arguing with the science though. Development of new techniques is going to take time and retailers will have to wait for those advances along with everybody else.”

The report featured a section on bread, rolls and morning goods, highlighting that the main problem in lowering salt levels in such products is that they would become too sticky and less easy to process. This could lead to sticky doughs stopping processing lines and leading to increased down-time and wastage.

An additional section on cakes, pastries and fruit pies revealed sodium in such bakery products comes from salt, sodium bicarbonate and leavening acid, which needs to be taken into account when lowering salt levels.

Barbara Gallani, food safety and science director at the FDF, said: “This report illustrates the complexity of salt reduction, and demonstrates the need for all parties to work together if continued progress is to be made to drive down salt consumption.

“We hope this report will be used both by our members and more broadly across the food industry. It has been sent to the Department of Health and the chair and members of the Responsibility Deal Food Network to inform the next stages of the salt reduction work.”

Dr Paul Berryman, chief executive at LFR, said: “Salt reduction is very complex. Each product category presents different challenges because salt affects taste, texture, shelf-life and food safety.

“Our research identified some exciting new techniques using mineral salts, potassium replacers, taste enhancers and clever manipulation of salt crystal size and position. These will assist food companies new to salt reduction.

“However, the government should reconsider its discouragement of potassium replacers and give clear guidance on how companies can gain legal approval for novel approaches. Most importantly, we need a standard method to check that salt reduction does not compromise the safety and shelf-life of the food. After all, salt is a natural preservative.”

The report can be downloaded for free at www.brc.org.uk/downloads/Leatherhead_Salt_Research.pdf.

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