Food companies are coming under renewed pressure to use less salt after federal regulators spelled out long-awaited guidelines aimed at cutting sodium in foods including condiments, cereals, french fries and potato chips.
The voluntary goals for 163 food categories are intended to help people eat less salt.
Most of the sodium the people in the United States consume comes from packaged or restaurant foods — not from salt added to meals at home. That makes it hard for people to make changes on their own.
To get people used to eating less salt, the federal Food and Drug Administration said reductions have to be gradual and across the entire range of foods so people don’t keep reaching for higher-sodium options.
“By putting out the targets, that really helps to level the playing field across the industry,” said Susan Mayne, director of the FDA’s food safety and nutrition division.
Over the next two and a half years, the FDA’s target sodium levels aim to cut average intake by 12% — from 3,400 milligrams a day to 3,000.
That would still leave average intake above the recommended limit of 2,300 milligrams a day for people 14 and older. The agency says it will monitor industry progress and keep issuing updated targets to bring levels closer over time to the recommended limit.
The FDA said it considered industry feedback after issuing its draft guidance in 2016. Ketchup, mustard and hot sauce, for example, were split up and now have different targets. Another difference: The final guidance doesn’t give a deadline for reaching longer-term targets.
“It’s a huge disappointment that the 10-year goal didn’t come out at the same time,” said Dr. Dariush Mozaffarian, dean of the Tufts University’s Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy.
Mozaffarian said some food companies resisted reduced sodium targets but that more scientific support has emerged for the federal guidance on sodium.
In 2019, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine tied the recommended limit to a reduced risk of chronic disease.
Whether the targets are effective in pushing the industry to lower sodium levels will hinge on how the FDA monitors progress and publicly communicates about it, Mozaffarian said.
The National Restaurant Association said it provided feedback to the FDA’s draft guidance and that its member companies offer options that address customer demand.
The American Frozen Food Institute said its members already have been offering lower-sodium options to meet demand.
Though the guidance is voluntary, companies might feel pressure to make changes to avoid regulatory action, said Dr. Peter Lurie, president of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, which has called for mandatory sodium standards.