Jun 03, 2016

    Less salt on the menu for US eateries, food makers


    FROM pizzas and soups to deli meats, dips and hamburgers, Americans' diets are often packed with salt. On Wednesday, the Food and Drug Administration moved to cut average salt consumption by a third in an effort to reduce heart attacks and strokes.

    The agency issued draft guidelines for major food manufacturers and big chain restaurants designed to reduce salt in hundreds of products, with separate sodium reduction targets set for two and 10 years.

    More than 70 per cent of the salt in the average diet comes in the form of processed and prepared food.

    The FDA's goal is to lower sodium in those foods and give consumers the choice to add salt later if they want to.

    Excess sodium raises blood pressure and is a leading risk factor for cardiovascular disease. The goal is to cut average adult salt consumption from 3,400mg a day to 2,300mg.

    The average American consumes almost 50 per cent more sodium than recommended by most experts, the FDA said.

    Many United States food companies, including Campbell Soup Co, General Mills Inc and Kraft Heinz Co, have already cut salt levels to some extent in anticipation of the guidelines, which have been in the works since 2011.

    The FDA said it looks forward to a robust discussion with the public and industry before finalising the guidance. Susan Mayne, director of the FDA's food safety and nutrition division, said the discussion is needed "to make sure we have the right targets".

    The food industry is likely to challenge the FDA's targets.

    "Like others inside and outside of government, we believe additional work is needed to determine the acceptable range of sodium intake for optimal health," Leon Bruner, chief science officer at the Grocery Manufacturers Association, said in a statement.

    "This evaluation should include research that indicates health risks for people who consume too much sodium as well as health risks from consuming too little sodium."

    The affected food items have been divided into 150 categories. Each will have different sodium targets and some products will have more room for reductions than others.

    Salad dressing has been singled out by the FDA as an example - the amount of sodium ranges from 150 mg per 100g to more than 2,000mg.

    The proposed salt guidelines are in theory voluntary.

    The National Restaurant Association said it is offering more menu choices but that "as restaurants continue to develop lower-sodium items, these efforts are challenged by consumer preference, limited technology, and acceptable lower-sodium options that take into account taste, quality and safety".

    About half the money spent by Americans on food goes towards food eaten outside the home, according to government figures.