For bakers of bread and rolls, sodium represents a critical problem. The current recommendation is to consume no more than 2,300 mg of sodium per day, but the average intake is 3,400 mg. Grain products (led by bread and rolls) account for 730 mg, or 21% of total sodium intake, the largest source of any food category.” This, taken from the March 26 issue of The Bakery Newsletter, lays it out in a nutshell. For snack manufacturers, the problem is a bit more “visible,” but one where solutions might also be a bit more realistic. For bread, salt is a functional ingredient, important to many quality attributes. For snacks, it is used more for flavor enhancement and aesthetics. In both cases, however, the sodium issue is a real problem.

Public health authorities around the world are challenging food manufacturers on salt levels, too. In Australia, for example, George Weston Foods, Goodman Fielder Baking, Allied Mills, Cripps Nubake, Woolworths, Coles and ALDI have agreed to reduce sodium in bread products to 400 mg per 100 g by the end of 2013. Also, ready-to-eat breakfast cereals from The Kellogg Company, Sanitarium, Cereal Partners Worldwide, Woolworths, Coles and ALDI will see their sodium content cut by 15% over the next four years.

In America’s fight to control the obesity epidemic as well as finding scapegoats for heart disease and hypertension, it won’t be long before congressional action is proposed and finalized to mandate sodium limits, and I predict bread and snacks will be the fall guys. However, with adversity comes opportunities, inspirations for innovation and partnerships.

Now is the time to hunker down, work within your R&D departments, involve suppliers and be diligent. Like food safety, trans fat and other issues important to consumers, showing the public health community (i.e., the Food and Drug Administration) that your company and the baking and snack industries are actively pursuing and succeeding in reducing sodium in product lines will go a long way to postpone regulations.

The issue of sodium will not be like the Atkins attack on the industry seven years ago. It will not fade away, get disproven or stand down to industry rebuttals. As the newsletter stated, “As other food categories cut back, grain-based foods will stand out more and more as a major sodium source. If bakers choose to do nothing, they will fall further behind other food groups, leaving baked foods vulnerable to attack.”

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