Food manufacturers have been accused of “pathetic progress” on salt reduction efforts after a new survey found that two rashers of bacon were saltier than eight bags of crisps.
The findings from non-profit Action on Salt expose the “dismal lack of progress” made by the food industry in meeting voluntary reduction targets.
Of the 171 bacon products collected from ten main UK supermarket chains, 86% have a salt concentration equal to or greater than seawater.
The saltiest bacon offender was Tesco Finest Unsmoked 8 Wiltshire Cure Back Bacon Medallions with 5.3g/100g, more than twice the concentration of seawater.
As well as highlighting products with alarming salt levels, the survey shows that bacon can be made with far less salt. The least salty bacon overall was The Co-operative 8 Reduced Fat Unsmoked Bacon Medallions with 1.45g/100g of salt – 4 times less salt compared to the saltiest bacon offender.
The non-profit is now urging the newly formed government to reignite a comprehensive salt reduction programme, with mandatory targets for salt levels in products that all companies would be expected to meet and strict penalties / levies for those who fail to comply.
Action on Salt says that all products surveyed should carry a red traffic light label for salt on front of pack, except the aforementioned medallions from the Co-operative.
Three in four of the bacon products surveyed had colour coded labelling on front of pack, which is a significant improvement from Action on Salt’s 2012 bacon survey, where only half provided some form of labelling on front of pack.
Tesco and Iceland are the only two supermarkets who have opted for no front of pack label on any of their bacon products, which, the non-profit says, puts their customers at a disadvantage as it is the only way to knowingly make a healthier choice.
Products labelled with ‘reduced salt’ aren’t necessarily the lowest as some still contained more salt than those which did not display a specific nutrition claim to salt. Examples include Lidl Birchwood Smoked Reduced Salt Back Bacon (2.13g per 100g as sold) vs Waitrose Free Range Unsmoked Back Bacon (1.51g per 100g as sold).
To add further confusion, there is no consistency on declaration of nutrition information with some companies providing nutritional information for bacon as raw, whilst others declare information as cooked. This makes it challenging to compare products as salt values for raw bacon are significantly lower than for cooked, and potentially misleads consumers by providing unrealistically lower levels of salt to the diet.
Zoe Davies, Nutritionist at Action on Salt, said: “Whilst it’s great to see a higher uptake of colour coded nutrition labelling, some retailers have completely avoided it or even removed it, and the out of home sector doesn’t use it at all, putting their customers at a disadvantage when looking for healthier alternatives.
“Government should seize the opportunity of Brexit, and set mandatory colour coded front of pack labelling immediately, to make it easier for customers to choose healthier options.”