LETTER

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Related tags: Public health, Food, Food safety, Salt

Less salt has safety implications, too

Sir

I write in response to the comments made by Professor Graham MacGregor about my claims that there is little scientific evidence to justify manufacturers cutting salt levels further (Food Manufacture February 2005, p4).

Although many have made play of the public health concerns regarding salt's suggested role in causing high blood pressure, there has been no mention of its role in another major public health area: food safety.

Salt has for thousands of years been used as a preservative and, although its importance has diminished in the light of temperature control and new packaging technology, it still plays an important role in food safety.

In many foods, shelf-life and safety are mostly dependent on temperature control. But with the safety net of chemical preservation removed or reduced, inadvertent temperature abuse by the trade or the consumer could become more serious, particularly if consumers store and use reformulated products in the same manner as before.

The transition [to lower salt] can be managed adequately by the food trade, provided it is given time and resources to do it properly. Pressure by government, nutritionists and medics to remove or reduce salt quickly belies knowledge of the time required to do this properly and safely.

In particular, the Society of Food Hygiene Technology (SOFHT) has concerns regarding smaller enterprises. They may respond to simplistic advice to reduce salt without being aware or advised of the food safety implications.

These concerns, together with the less than convincing science behind the public health benefits of reducing salt, lead me and many others to question the overall benefits of adopting this policy. The inference that reducing salt will cause a 50% reduction in heart attacks and strokes needs to be substantiated and validated by robust science. If not, then such comment can easily be called into disrepute and could be seen as exaggerated and even misleading.

In light of this, SOFHT and the Royal Society of Chemistry have organised a conference on March 15 and 16 in London at which MacGregor is speaking, along with speakers from all sides of the fence on salt, fat, sugar and regulations.

Neil Griffiths

Chairman

Society of Food Hygiene Technology