Bakers seek open process in New York sodium push

by Josh Sosland
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NEW YORK — A more open and cooperative process is necessary to bring the baking industry broadly into the fold in a New York City initiative to spearhead a national reduction of salt content in the food supply.

“A.B.A. recommends the need for a broader inclusive stakeholder participation,” said Lee Sanders, senior vice-president of government relations and public affairs, American Bakers Association. “A.B.A. asserts that an open, collaborative dialogue will foster transparency and greater public-private cooperation. The opportunity to have all vested stakeholders actively participating will lead to better industry cooperation and understanding of the proposed voluntary program.”

Ms. Sanders’ comments on the New York effort were submitted Feb. 1 in a letter to Lynn Silver, assistant commissioner, Bureau of Chronic Disease Prevention and Control, New York Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. The letter was submitted by the A.B.A. Food Technical Regulatory Committee.

The New York department is coordinating the National Salt Reduction Initiative, a coalition of local and state health authorities and health organizations “working to help food manufacturers and restaurants voluntarily reduce the amount of salt in their products.” The program objective is to cut salt intake by a fifth in five years.

“This unprecedented public-private partnership has developed targets to guide company salt reductions in 62 categories of packaged food and 25 categories of restaurant food,” the New York department said. “The N.S.R.I. target includes voluntary two- and four-year targets for average salt levels in each category of food. Some popular products already meet these targets — a clear indication that they are achievable. When a company signs onto the initiative, it pledges that its overall sales in a given category — canned soup, for example — will meet the relevant target for salt content, even if some individual products don't.”
For bread, the N.S.R.I. target is reducing sodium content from a 2009 baseline average of 485 mg per 100 grams to 440 mg by 2012 and 360 by 2014.

“A.B.A. and its members support a voluntary, gradual and incremental approach to the reduction of salt and sodium in foods as part of its continual commitment to the overall healthy of Americans,” Ms. Sanders said.

In her letter, Ms. Sanders emphasized the many complexities surrounding what the N.S.R.I. seems to be portraying as a very simple matter.

“Reduction of sodium in food is a complicated, technical and resource intensive task that must be handled carefully so that consumers will embrace formulation changes,” Ms. Sanders said.

In terms of bread quality, Ms. Sanders cited the important role of salt in crust color, crust structure, prevention of excessive yeast action and inhibition of acid producing bacteria.

Noting most bread is made from doughs with 1.5% to 2% salt by flour weight, she said salt is important in industrial production, making dough less sticky and affecting the rate of fermentation.

Ms. Sanders also discussed salt’s importance for palatability, particularly whole wheat bread.

Related to the complexity theme, Ms. Sanders reminded the New York health department of the different ways health objectives interact, sometimes in contradictory fashion.

For instance, the push for sodium reduction could work against efforts to increase consumption of whole grains.

“The baking industry has been working for years to increase the number of whole grain products that are palatable to and popular among consumers to help Americans achieve the goal of increased whole grain consumption recommended by the 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans,” Ms. Sanders said. “Lowering the salt content of whole grain breads has a substantially negative effect on palatability and consumer acceptance of whole grain products. It is important to consider the public health impact of lower intakes of whole grains that may result from sodium levels reduced to proposed targets.”

Similarly, Ms. Sanders said the baking industry has been working to lower acrylamide levels in baked foods. She said replacing ammonium bicarbonate with other leavening agents such as sodium bicarbonate has been an effective vehicle for reducing acrylamide formation.

“However, this would have the consequence of raising sodium levels in bakery products,” she said.

Several dozen companies are partnering with the N.S.R.I., including a few involved in baking. Grain-based foods examples in the program include Campbell Soup Co., canned pasta and packaged bread and rolls; Delhaize America, french toast, pancakes, waffles and instant cereal; FreshDirect, packaged cakes, snack pies, muffins, toaster pastries and frozen pizza; Hain Celestial, bread and rolls, pancakes, french toast waffles and breakfast cereal; Hostess Brands, bread and rolls; Kraft Foods Inc., tortillas and wraps; McCain Foods, frozen pizza, breakfast sandwiches, french toast, waffles and pancakes; Snyder’s-Lance, crackers and pretzels; Subway, cookies; sandwiches; White Rose, snack foods, french toast, pancakes and waffles.

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