A.B.A. sees window of opportunity on sodium reduction
For years, bakers (and much of the food industry) have complained that Food and Drug Administration guidelines for low sodium health claims have been anything but helpful either to the baking industry or consumers. Limiting sodium to 140 mg per serving in bread qualifying for the claim means cutting sodium drastically below prevailing levels of most brands currently on the market.
The drastic cuts required have meant few low sodium bread products are offered at all. Additionally, for consumers, the rules have translated into products that make the term “low sodium” generally synonymous with “poor taste.” The ramifications of the impractical F.D.A. regulations were brought to light in a new way by Len Heflich in his work as chairman of the Food Technical Regulatory Affairs Committee of the American Bakers Association.
Looking at 69 stock-keeping units of bread, bagels and rolls at supermarkets, FTRAC observed that popular brands of white bread, variety bread and bagels, as well as rolls and buns, varied in sodium content from less than 400 to more than 700 mg of sodium per 100 grams of product. Even bagels and rye bread, which Mr. Heflich said are often assumed to be high in sodium, showed wide variation.
Because of the rigidity of the F.D.A. rules, though, bakers with formulations at the lower end of the sodium range are unable to differentiate their product from other products with more than 700 mg per serving, except on the Nutrition Facts Panel. Conversely, bakers with bread at the upper end, perhaps double the sodium in some cases, have little incentive to reduce sodium content.
FTRAC members have concluded it is time for bakers on the upper end as well as those in the middle to cut sodium content. They believe that such reductions, done correctly, will be beneficial to the companies involved, the overall industry and consumers.
It’s a shame the F.D.A., through more appropriate health claim rules, is unable to play a constructive role in this transition.