To Improve Nutrition and Reduce the Burden of Disease, FDA Issues Food Industry Guidance for Voluntarily Reducing Sodium in Processed and Packaged Foods

Statement From:

Janet Woodcock, M.D.
Acting Commissioner of Food and Drugs – Food and Drug Administration

Susan T. Mayne, Ph.D.
Director – Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition (CFSAN)


A cornerstone of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s public health mission is to reduce the burden of chronic disease through improved nutrition. As a nation, we are facing a growing epidemic of preventable, diet-related conditions like cardiovascular disease, diabetes and obesity, and the agency’s work in this area has become even more urgent. For these reasons, we’re taking a critical step to further address preventable diet-related chronic diseases and advance health equity that we hope will become one of the most significant public health nutrition interventions in a generation.

Limiting certain nutrients, such as sodium, in our diets plays a crucial role in preventing diseases like hypertension and cardiovascular disease that disproportionately impact racial and ethnic minority groups; these diseases often result in hundreds of thousands of lives lost and billions in annual health care costs. The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has only amplified these health disparities and the need for improved nutrition, as people with cardiovascular disease and other underlying conditions are at increased risk for severe outcomes from COVID-19.

For these reasons, we’re taking a critical step to further address preventable diet-related chronic diseases and advance health equity that we hope will become one of the most significant public health nutrition interventions in a generation.

Today, the FDA is issuing a final guidance, “Voluntary Sodium Reduction Goals: Target Mean and Upper Bound Concentrations for Sodium in Commercially Processed, Packaged, and Prepared Foods,” which provides voluntary short-term sodium reduction targets for food manufacturers, chain restaurants and food service operators for 163 categories of processed, packaged and prepared foods. The guidance is another step the agency is taking to advance the Administration’s whole-of-government approach to nutrition and health and improve future health outcomes.

By limiting certain nutrients like sodium in our diets, we can help prevent diseases like hypertension and cardiovascular disease that disproportionately impact racial and ethnic minority groups, often resulting in hundreds of thousands of lives lost and billions in annual health care costs. The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has only amplified these health disparities and the need for improved nutrition, as people with cardiovascular disease and other underlying conditions are at increased risk for severe outcomes from COVID-19.

Research shows that people consume 50% more sodium than recommended. This includes our youngest and most vulnerable populations, with more than 95% of children aged 2 to 13 years old exceeding recommended limits of sodium for their age groups. Although many consumers may want to reduce their sodium intake, about 70% of the sodium we eat comes from packaged, processed and restaurant foods, making it challenging to limit sodium. Changes across the overall food supply will make it easier to access lower-sodium options and reduce intake even in the absence of behavior change.

The targets in the final guidance seek to decrease average sodium intake from approximately 3,400 milligrams (mg) to 3,000 mg per day, about a 12% reduction, over the next 2.5 years. Although the average intake would still be above the Dietary Guidelines for Americans’ recommended limit of 2,300 mg per day for those 14 and older, we know that even these modest reductions made slowly over the next few years will substantially decrease diet-related diseases.

The final guidance outlines short-term goals that we’re recommending the food industry work to meet as soon as possible to help optimize public health. We will continue our discussions with the food industry as we monitor the sodium content of the food supply to evaluate progress. In the future, we plan to issue revised, subsequent targets to further lower the sodium content incrementally and continue to help reduce sodium intake. This iterative approach will help support gradual reductions in sodium levels broadly across the food supply so that consumers’ tastes adjust, health outcomes improve and no one company or category of food is singled out or scrutinized. Voluntary and gradual approaches such as this have also been successful in other countries, such as Canada and the U.K.

We first proposed recommendations for reducing sodium content in a 2016 draft guidance. A number of companies in the food industry have already made changes to sodium content in their products, which is encouraging, but additional support across all types of foods to help consumers meet recommended sodium limits is needed. Today, consumers can take steps to lower their sodium intake by reading food labels, including the Nutrition Facts label, asking for nutrition information at chain restaurants, choosing lower sodium options and speaking with their health care providers about eating healthier foods.

The FDA is committed to playing its part with the tools available to us to help create a healthier food supply, promote healthy habits early and empower consumers to make healthier food choices. We have already taken steps through our Closer to Zero action plan for reducing exposure to toxic elements in foods commonly eaten by babies and young children to the lowest possible levels and have more work ahead using a similar iterative process. Many of our federal, state and local partners also have initiatives underway that support sodium reduction and help people achieve healthier eating patterns overall. If we act together, we can have a profound impact on the health of millions of people.

Source: FDA

Seven Hong Kong Bakeries Join Salt Reduction Push

Victor Ting wrote . . . . . . . . .

Seven Hong Kong bread manufacturers have pledged to reduce salt levels in their prepackaged bread under a voluntary scheme launched by the government’s advisory body on food health.

But one company that did not join the health push was major food group Maxim’s.

The Committee on Reduction of Salt and Sugar in Food, chaired by Executive Council convenor Bernard Chan, announced the plan on Friday.

Under the scheme, the seven manufacturers, including chain stores such as A-1 Bakery, Maria’s Bakery, ParknShop and Saint Honore Cake Shop will follow a voluntary target of reduction to 380 milligrams of sodium – the main constituent of salt – for every 100 g of prepackaged white bread and wholemeal bread on average in a year.

The maximum amount of salt will be set at 490 mg/100 g in white bread and 470 mg/100 g of wholemeal bread, according to the target.

Dr Henry Ng Chi-cheung, principal medical officer for risk assessment and communication at the Centre for Food Safety, said the reduction was necessary to keep city residents healthy.

“Food safety requires three stakeholders – the government, citizens and the industry – to work hand in hand,” Ng said. “The voluntary target is needed because, as we all know, too much salt in our diets will lead to a number of health problems, such as high blood pressure, stroke and kidney diseases.”

According to a 2014-15 Health Department report, Hongkongers between the ages of 15 and 84 have an average daily salt intake of 8.8g, more than the 5g recommended by the World Health Organisation.

Some 6 per cent of sodium consumed by adults comes from bread, while white bread and wholemeal bread are the most and second most consumed types of bread by Hongkongers, according to the Centre for Food Safety.

The Committee on Reduction of Salt and Sugar in Food was set up in 2015 to promote healthier diets. Last year, the advisory body rolled out voluntary salt and sugar labels on the city’s packaged food and drink to give more dietary information to the public.

Dr Ng noted the government had talks with more than 10 bread suppliers, but only seven eventually signed up to the scheme, which did not include the city’s biggest bread manufacturer, Maxim’s.

He added that non-prepackaged bread could be included in the scheme in the future, but he did not think a mandatory target was the way forward.

“We’ve looked at how other countries have done it, and in the US, the UK and Canada, a voluntary target has proved to be effective,” he said. “Ultimately it’s about changing the culinary culture and habit of a place. If industries can work together and achieve the target, it’s actually a good way to do it.”

John Chong, chief executive of King Bakery, one of the seven manufacturers enrolled in the scheme, said lowering salt content involved adjusting the ingredients and the recipe, and would mean extra work for the bakery.

“But I think we should do it for the good health of Hong Kong residents,” Chong said. “I don’t think it tastes that different actually, but you can try it for yourself.”

Source: SCMP