‘Dangerously high’ salt levels found in picnic foods

‘Dangerously high' salt levels found in picnic foods
Credit: Shutterstock.com/ Sunny Forest

The nation’s typical picnic basket contains “dangerously high” salt levels, according to a new survey by Action on Salt.

The new research, which analysed 555 savoury picnic finger foods available from retailers, found high levels of salt in these products whereby one in four would qualify for a red label on the front of the pack.

As a result, experts from Action on Salt – based at Queen Mary University of London – are calling for immediate compulsory front of pack nutritional labelling on picnic savouries.

“This survey highlights just 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 Action on Salt.

“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.”

Salt targets

In 2018, Public Health England (PHE) released an analysis of the food industry’s progress towards achieving the 2017 targets, which revealed many of the targets had not been met.

Action on Salt similarly found that half of products surveyed were higher in salt than their average salt targets and 17% had more salt than their maximum target.

Graham MacGregor, Professor of Cardiovascular Medicine at Queen Mary and Chair of Action on Salt, said: “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. This is leading to thousands dying or suffering from entirely unnecessary strokes and heart disease.

“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. The public’s health has suffered long enough.”

Front of pack labelling

The survey found that almost one in three products have no colour-coded front of pack (FoP) labelling. Consumers may also buy products at the deli counter where no nutrition labelling is available.

Of those products without FoP labelling, more than 40% were found to be high in salt, many of which are olive products which do not currently have a specific salt target set by PHE.

There was also a significant variation in the salt content of all product categories surveyed showing reformulation is easily achievable.