The Food Industry

checking food labelMore than 75% of salt consumed by Australians is eaten as ‘hidden’ salt. This is the salt that is in processed foods. Salt added to food at the table represents only a small proportion of daily salt intake.

AWASH launched its Drop the Salt! campaign in May 2007 to develop a five-year strategy to reduce salt in processed foods by 25%. The strategy aims to secure high level commitment from Australia’s food industry to activate ways to reformulate food products with lower salt options. The Australian food industry has begun to make good progress and recognises that more needs to be done.

Individual food company agreements are being negotiated with AWASH experts including Dr Bruce Neal, Chair of AWASH, Senior Director at The George Institute for International Health and Associate Professor of Medicine at the University of Sydney, and Ms Jacqui Webster, AWASH Project Manager and previous coordinator of the UK Food Standards Agency’s salt reduction strategy.

AWASH has also secured support from other key stakeholders including the food industry.

The food industry in Australia has already taken steps to reduce salt in some food products, partly in order to meet the criteria required to obtain the National Heart Foundation’s Tick accreditation but also as awareness of AWASH objectives grow. The AWASH food industry strategy will be building on the action already taken to reduce salt in some food products and the continued commitment of the food industry to make further changes. Some of the commitments and actions are detailed below:

Manufacturers

Australian Food and Grocery Council is the peak national organisation representing Australia’s packaged food, drink and grocery products manufacturing industry. It supports initiatives contributing to the objective of improving public health through healthy eating including reducing hypertension through a target daily salt intake for adults below 6g per day. The AFGC advocates that the food industry should continue to review product formulations and processing technologies with a view to reducing the use of salt, whilst still ensuring that food products remain appealing to consumers in taste, convenience and price and that product safety and integrity can be maintained throughout an appropriate shelf-life.

The WHO report, Reducing Salt Intake in Populations, released in April 2007, emphasises the need to work closely with food manufacturers as the cornerstone of any successful national salt reduction campaign.

Many manufacturers have already made a significant impact on reducing salt in foods. For example:

Heinz Australia has signed up as a supporter in principle of the AWASH group, due to its intention to improve the diets of Australians and raise awareness about health. This message is consistent with Heinz Australia’s current approach to continuously developing quality, flavoursome foods whilst being considerate of health and people’s changing needs.

Heinz Australia has been reducing salt in recipes across a range of products such as soups, meals and sauces for some time and continues to do so in current and future planned launches and varieties. These changes are backed up by extensive taste testing and consumer research to ensure that flavour is not compromised, and our products move in line with changing consumer tastes.

Heinz supports activities that educate and increase public awareness of health and wellness initiatives such as managing salt intake. Heinz, in support of Salt Awareness Week, is undertaking a staff survey to raise awareness and respond to our own internal knowledge about salt or sodium in the Australian diet.

Kellogg is committed to continually reviewing and improving the amount of sodium in their products. In 1997, Kellogg commenced a salt reduction program in breakfast cereals, which resulted in the removal of around 250 tonnes of salt from the Australian food supply. Since the commencement of the program, it has reduced the sodium content in 12 key products, including Sultana Bran, Rice Bubbles and Corn Flakes by an average of 40%.

It also intends to launch new products which are lower in salt including Corn Flakes Wholegrain, which contain 47% less sodium than Corn Flakes Original, and Coco Pops Coco Rocks, which contain 40% less sodium than Coco Pops as part of its commitment to offering people lower salt options to meet their individual needs.

Lowan Whole Foods is committed to providing consumers with high quality whole foods that promote good health. It recently re-launched and extended its children’s range of cereals to improve nutritional values including having a low level of salt. All products in the Lowan Kids range now meet the criteria for a low salt food. Lowan has set a significant benchmark when it comes to salt reduction and encourages other food manufactures to consider similar initiatives.

Lowan Whole Foods congratulates AWASH for taking a stand against salt and wholeheartedly supports the AWASH salt reduction campaign. Lowan Whole Foods has been providing quality whole foods to consumers for over 30 years, and recognises the importance of providing children with healthy products that in turn will promote a healthier future generation.

It understands that significantly reducing salt levels in manufactured foods presents a difficult challenge, particularly in the breakfast cereal category. However, Lowan has proven that it can be done through the development of its new Lowan Kids range. It has set a significant benchmark when it comes to salt reduction by reducing the salt content in its children’s cereal Honey O’s by over 1/3 to just 81mg per 100g, and encourages other food manufactures to consider similar salt reduction initiatives in the interest of our nation’s health.

The Sanitarium Health Food Company is committed to producing nutritious foods to help people experience happy healthy lives. Sanitarium recognizes the importance of salt reduction and in 2000 introduced a Corporate Nutrition Policy that set key nutrient benchmarks, including sodium for each product category. With the introduction of the Corporate Nutrition Policy, several products were reformulated to reduce the sodium content. For example, the sodium in our Cornflakes was reduced by 13% and Vegie Delights Not Burgers was reduced by 49%. Sanitarium aims to reduce sodium content in new product development wherever possible and two new Vegie Delights products developed had sodium levels 68% lower than the existing product range (average values). Sanitarium products that meet the “low in salt” criteria (< 120mg/100g) include:
Honey Weets, Lite-Bix, Puffed Wheat
All So Good beverages
All Up & Go and Up & Go Energize flavours
No Added Salt Peanut Butter, Natural Peanut Butter
John Tickell’s 12 Vegetable Soup – Minestrone and Vegetable
Weet-Bix Kids
Plain nuts (no added salt), plain dried fruits, seeds, dried legumes, Rolled oats & Oat bran, Unprocessed bran, Unpearled barley, Apricot Delight
Vitality dried fruit and nut range
The Smith’s Snackfood Company is committed to reducing the salt content across its entire product range by 25% over the next five years and it has already started to make good progress. It has reduced the sodium level in Smith’s Original Crinkle Cut Potato Chips, the most popular potato chip flavour in the Smith’s range, by 17% versus the level in 2006. The sodium level on Twisties Cheese flavoured snacks is also being reduced by 5% versus the same time last year. Changes will vary from product to product as it balances reducing salt levels with not adversely affecting taste and consumer acceptability.

Unilever Australasia recognises the importance of reducing salt in the food supply. Salt is one of the 4 nutrients (along with saturated fat, trans fat and sugar) that it has been reducing in its products since 2001 as part of its Nutrition Enhancement Program.

Unilever has been reducing salt for many years before that. During the 1990’s, more than 250 tonnes of salt was removed from its Flora® spreads products. Since 2001, it has reduced the salt content of more than 155 Continental® products (including Cup-a-soup, Pasta & Sauce, Rices, Recipe Mixes and Stocks) by on average 30%. As a result, about 60 tonnes of salt have been removed from the food supply. Sodium (salt) criteria have been developed to guide new product development and these benchmarks are regularly reviewed. The salt reduction program is underpinned by an on-going technical research program in research centres in Germany and the Netherlands.

Supermarkets

Coles is committed to developing its Housebrand food offer in a nutritionally balanced way and will look to reduce salt levels in its housebrand foods while continuing to ensure great taste and minimising potential cost impacts to its customers.

Quick Food Service Sector

McDonald’s Australia became the first fast food restaurant chain to earn the Heart Foundation Tick in 2007 for nine meals. McDonald’s has modified their recipes for chicken marinades, sauces and salad dressings and has reduced the salt in the Deli Choices bread rolls by 43%. The modified ingredients used in the Tick approved meals are now used across the whole McDonald’s Australia menu. McDonald’s continues to look at opportunities to provide more choices and information to suit the needs of their customers. McDonald’s has achieved an average salt reduction of 32% through recipe changes, removing over two and a half thousand kilograms of salt a year from the food supply.

Compass Group has an ongoing program of salt reduction as part of its overall Health and Wellness program which includes reformulation and labelling in relation to specific criteria for fat, energy, fibre and salt. This runs in parallel with monthly food and nutrition education sessions for food service staff.

Research Institutions

Food Science Australia, together with a number of Australian food manufacturing companies, is starting a research project to find out if food structure design can be used to control salt perception in emulsion based foods. The aim is to design foods that provide an enhanced perception of the salt ions when the food is broken down by chewing. Such a technology would provide the opportunity to reduce the salt content while maintaining the salt perception of a high salt containing food. These new foods are being developed with the assistance of an in vitro model that mimics the in-mouth processes that occur during mastication. These foods will also be tested by sensory panels. The project is planned to run for three years and is starting in February 2008.

“The work that was done in the UK… to reduce salt levels in processed foods was an excellent example of government and industry working effectively together on an important issue of public health. Over a period of three years very significant reductions were made across a broad range of product categories that included everything from bread and breakfast cereals to soups and meal sauces”.

Gavin Neath – Chairman, Unilever Bestfoods

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