The Food and Drink Federation (FDF), the voice of the UK food and drink manufacturing industry, is to spearhead an industry-wide programme to reduce salt - or more precisely sodium - in breakfast cereals, soups and sauces.
According to the FDF, the UK food and drink industry has already worked hard to cut sodium levels in these products over the last few years - salt levels in breakfast cereals have been cut by 16 per cent since 1998, for example - and the new programme aims to continue this good work.
The aim is to ensure that all new products coming to market in the breakfast cereal sector will continue the trend for products with lower sodium levels, while the industry has also committed itself to meeting a target of a 10 per cent reduction in sodium levels in ambient soups and sauces by end 2003. Furthermore, and subject to consumer acceptance, it will push for further, similar reductions in this sector in 2004 and 2005.
The plan also sets out the first agreed baseline figures showing current sodium usage in processed food sectors. This allows for a continued review of product formulations and consumer testing to ensure consumer preferences are met, as well as an annual review of sodium levels on the same basis.
FDF director general Sylvia Jay said: "UK food and drink manufacturers are committed to encouraging consumers of all ages to improve their own health through a balanced diet. While there is currently a medical debate about the effects of sodium on health, the Food Standards Agency (FSA) has advised consumers to reduce salt intake. Our industry is glad to co-operate with the FSA to help achieve that end.
"UK bread manufacturers have reduced salt across the product range by 13 per cent since 1998. This includes reductions confirmed in a recent FSA survey of breads. Our manufacturers have now agreed with the FSA how to measure the significant salt reductions already achieved, as well as those planned, in breakfast cereals and soups and sauces. These sectors have been identified by the FSA as contributing significantly to salt intake."
The industry has worked constructively with the FSA since its creation in April 2000. The action plan follows the publication by the FDF of the first, national manufacturers' survey of salt use in 2000.
The survey set out why salt content has an important role to play within food production including product safety (preservation and shelf-life), its contribution to product quality (texture, function), and its effects on product flavour and taste. In many cases salt has a multi-purpose use.
The national Manufacturers Survey of Salt use in 2000 also looked at the technological reasons why salt is used in food. Of manufacturers who took part, 95 per cent cited flavour as a reason for adding salt, while 46 per cent said they used salt as a preservative. Some 38 per cent said salt was used for texture.
In 24 per cent of the products surveyed, salt contributed to specific processes (e.g. to control yeast growth and fermentation rate in bread and to inhibit the 'clouding' of vinegar in pickled products).