NEW YORK – New York City Public Health Department officials have launched the National Salt Reduction Initiative, a program to guide the voluntary reduction in salt levels in foods sold at retail as well as food service. The goal is to cut the salt in packaged and restaurant foods by 25% over five years.

“Consumers can always add salt to food, but they can’t take it out,” said Dr. Thomas Farley, New York City Health Commissioner. “At current levels, the salt in our diets poses health risks for people with normal blood pressure, and it’s even riskier for the 1.5 million New Yorkers with high blood pressure. If we can reduce the sodium levels in packaged and restaurant foods, we will give consumers more choice about the amount of salt they eat, and reduce their risk of heart disease and stroke in the process.”

New York City public health officials have developed specific targets to help companies reduce the salt levels in 61 categories of packaged food and 25 classes of restaurant food. The city’s health department will solicit additional comments on the targets and adopt final targets this spring.

The initiative has proposed a timeline for sodium reduction. For example, for breads and rolls, the initiative has proposed reducing the sodium content from 485 mg/100 grams to 440 mg/100grams by 2012 and 360 mg/100 grams by 2014. Visit the New York City Department of Public Health to learn more about the targets for specific products and comment on the proposed targets.

The Campbell Soup Co., Camden, N.J., said it supports the intent of the initiative, but it called the proposed targets “quite aggressive.”

“We share a common goal to help improve the health of Americans, but our path to get there is very different,” said Chor-San Khoo, vice-president of global nutrition and health for the Campbell Soup Co. “We appreciate the opportunity to participate in meetings with New York City officials to share key lessons from our long-standing sodium reduction efforts. Their sodium reduction vision is laudable. However the targets proposed are quite aggressive and difficult to achieve, particularly in the recommended time frames.

“Campbell’s success in sodium reduction has been based on the ability to provide great-tasting products through gradual reductions over time. One of the key things we have learned from our experience is that it is critical to provide time for feedback to ensure products meet consumers’ taste expectations.

“We believe any initiative must be national in scope and not a city- or state-based approach. We will continue to work with New York City, federal governmental agencies and members of the food industry toward a national strategy.”