KANSAS CITY — In mid-October, sodium reduction was thrust into the spotlight once again after the US Food and Drug Administration finalized 2016 draft guidance for voluntary sodium reduction targets for food producers. A few months earlier, the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion released a Dietary Guidelines for Americans fact sheet on sodium to advise consumers on strategies to lower sodium intake. Processed meats, and the sandwiches, burgers and pizzas where they are used, were identified as sources of “a lot of sodium.” It’s time for meat and poultry processors to take action.

“Reducing sodium content is achievable but there are limits to stealth reduction using a simple strategy of using less salt,” said Rajesh Potineni, vice president of research and development, Kerry Group, Beloit, Wis. “Put simply, formulators can’t go beyond a 10% to 15% elimination of sodium chloride without running into significant taste, texture and shelf-life challenges and changes that consumers will notice and react to.”

Cutting back

Suppliers provide assistance by offering a plethora of ingredient technologies to cut a little bit here and a little bit there, or making functional substitutions, while maintaining product quality and safety. These efforts are a significant step in creating a healthier food supply to help reverse the trend of diet-related chronic diseases, according to FDA. That’s because too much sodium increases the risk for developing hypertension, thereby raising the risk for heart attacks and strokes.

While the sodium reduction guidance is voluntary, taking action is the right thing to do. Currently, on average, Americans 14 years and older consume 50% more than the recommended limit for sodium. When it comes to children aged 2 to 13 years, more than 95% exceed the recommended limits of sodium for their age groups. This could have profound impacts on later health outcomes.

The fact sheet instructs consumers to check labels and choose foods that are lower in sodium by looking at the Daily Value. It states that 5% DV or less is a low source of sodium and 20% DV or more is a high source. While it is nearly impossible for some meat and poultry products to reach very low numbers, as sodium is as much a performance ingredient as it is a flavor potentiator, it is possible to make ingredient swaps to make the labels more desirable.

The FDA’s plan recognizes that successful sodium reduction needs to take place broadly across the overall food supply. In fact, the new FDA guidance is still above the Dietary Guidelines’ recommended limit of 2,300 mg per day for those 14 and older. The targets in the guidance are designed to support decreasing average daily sodium intake by about 12% – from about 3,400 mg to 3,000 mg per day. This reduction is expected to result in tens of thousands of fewer cases of heart disease and stroke and billions saved in healthcare costs. The FDA believes these targets are feasible to achieve in two and a half years and cover both manufactured foods and foodservice.

Kalua PorkPhoto: Saltworks


Toolbox of ingredients

As Potineni stated, in most meat and poultry applications, you can only cut out so much sodium chloride before the product is negatively impacted. That’s why formulators need to explore all ingredients that contribute sodium and make cuts and swaps where possible. One of the most common swaps is replacing sodium chloride with potassium chloride.

“Potassium chloride, which can now be labeled as potassium salt, is a good replacement for sodium chloride,” said Tom Katen, senior technical services specialist, Cargill Salt, Minneapolis. “Larger sodium chloride swaps, up to 50%, are possible in more seasoned products, while blander applications, like deli poultry meat, might only allow for a 30% sodium chloride replacement.”

Both beef jerky and pepperoni pizza topping contain high levels of sodium but are also packed with flavors and spices. This makes it possible to achieve as much as a 50% reduction in sodium using a combination of potassium salt and sodium chloride.

“Even at these high rates, consumers won’t taste the potassium ion amidst all the other flavors in the product,” Katen said. “This sodium reduction solution has the added benefit of increasing the product’s potassium content, in this case, by nearly 300%.”

Replacing a portion of the sodium chloride in the formula with potassium salt requires no changes to production processes. And because potassium salt has similar physical and functional properties to sodium chloride, it can be used as a 1:1 replacement making reformulation easy.

“Sometimes we can use formulation tricks to enable deeper sodium reductions,” Katen said. “For example, in chicken nuggets, we’ve found we can use up to 100% potassium salt inside the nugget if we use real salt in the breading. The topical salt in the batter and breading delivers the flavor experience consumers expect and masks the off-notes from the potassium salt in the substrate. This approach enables brands to cut salt by as much as 50%, without impacting consumer likeability or processing yields.”

Mark Zoske, founder and chief executive officer, SaltWorks, Woodinville, Wash., said, “Nothing can come close to the real taste of natural sea salt. The trace minerals in all-natural sea salt deliver subtle nuances of flavor, making it more flavorful and complex than refined salt. With premium sea salt, it is possible to use less of it without sacrificing taste.” 

SaltWorks recently launched two new grain sizes that elevate flavor, adhesion and functionality. They have a hollow, pyramid shape and soft texture that more easily adheres to food, allowing less salt to go to waste in the manufacturing process.

“Additionally, the razor-thin, feather-like nature causes them to instantly dissolve the moment they hit your tongue to achieve that salty, savory bite,” Zoske said. “They work especially well in spice rubs, breading and batters, essentially anything that coats the meat since the three-dimensional shape allows them to ‘stand up’ on the surface of the food.”

The pyramidal shape boasts several times the surface area of a standard grain of table salt. This also means less clumping.

“Flavor also plays a role in sodium reduction,” Zoske said. “We offer a range of clean-label, all-natural infused flavored salts and cold-smoked salts to elevate the flavor of food.”

Salt of the Earth, Israel, produces an umami liquid that is a propriety savory mix of high-quality sea salt and vegetable extracts. It is a clean-label flavor enhancer and sodium-reduction ingredient.

“Usual reductions in sodium are around 25% to 40%,” said Tali Feingold, SaltWorks business unit director. “It works well in proteins and is labeled as a natural flavor. It is intended to be added to the liquid phase of the formulation.”

Wixon, St. Francis, Wis., developed a reduced-sodium system specifically for the meat industry that can be customized to any species or processing format. It is a flavor modifier and sodium chloride replacer and labeled “potassium chloride, natural flavor.”

“The system positively impacts flavor without compromising functionality and can generate up to a 50% reduction in sodium,” said Ron Ratz, senior vice president. “Our technology enrobes a proprietary flavor modifier to the crystal structure fostering a significant reduction in the bitter aftertaste associated with potassium chloride while maintaining intended flavor and functionality supported by salt.”

Terry Miesle, master flavorist, Sensient Flavors & Extracts, Hoffman Estates, Ill., said that sodium reduction tools designed to replace salty are often best used in breading or other surface applications that do not rely on salt for functions such as tenderizing and water binding. Sensient’s solutions are labeled as “natural flavor” and have low usage levels compared to the salt they replace.

“By leveraging our fermentation, extraction and cooking expertise, Kerry has developed a toolbox of solutions that deliver salt and umami taste while reducing the amount of sodium in a product,” Potineni said. “These solutions improve taste perception while rebalancing the overall eating experience.”

Depending on the application, these solutions can reduce salt by up to 50%. They may be declared as “natural flavoring” or “yeast extract.”

Lamb chopsPhoto: Saltworks


Keeping product safe

When reducing salt in meat and poultry, there’s typically an increase in water activity. This impacts shelf life and food safety and makes the inclusion of an antimicrobial important. Traditional antimicrobials often contain sodium.

“Corbion offers a number of products to help manufacturers reduce sodium safely, sustainably and with minimal compromise on taste,” said Garrett McCoy, senior manager of research, development and applications, Corbion, Lenexa, Kan. “Through these products, we are able to replace the antimicrobials that bring sodium into the formula with those that don’t, address shelf-life and safety concerns that arise when overall salt level is reduced and add natural flavoring via cultured sugar, which helps to enhance savory notes such as salty, sweet and umami.” 

“Up to 100% sodium reduction as delivered by the antimicrobial ingredient may be achieved,” McCoy said. “Our cultured sugar ingredient has been shown to maintain taste in 20%-reduced sodium meat products, enabling a front-of-pack claim to the nutritional benefits.” 

Potineni said, “Many processors are looking for alternatives to conventional liquid, sodium-based preservation solutions for meat and poultry. Reasons for this can include supply chain challenges, as well as targeting sodium reduction. When our partners are looking to reformulate, we can adjust the approach based on priorities for their product lines.”

He identified two common approaches. One is to use the time to reformulate to clean label.

“With lactic acid prices approaching levels comparable to those of buffered vinegar, a customer can reformulate to clean label targeting benefits like no sodium, more supply security and comparable price bands and can often gain a consumer premium from reformulating to more natural solutions,” Potineni said. “This can be done with potassium buffered vinegars.”

“The other is to stick to conventional preservation, leveraging acetic acid-based technologies to reformulate for cost savings, targeting benefits like no sodium, comparable taste and shelf life,” Potineni said. “Potassium salts can be leveraged here, too, to reduce sodium.”

Michael Cropp, technical services associate, Kemin Food Technologies, North America, Des Moines, Iowa, said, “Many antimicrobials in meat are buffered closer to meat pH levels (above isoelectric point) to improve processing attributes while still ensuring microbial safety and shelf life. However, the buffering process typically includes sodium as a carrier. Utilizing potassium-based salts in place of sodium salts in various antimicrobials allows processors to ensure food quality and safety standards are met as well as nutritional guardrails.”

The conventional ingredient would typically read “dry vinegar” or “buffered vinegar,” regardless of whether or not sodium or potassium salt is utilized. Label declaration won’t change, but nutritional sodium content levels would be lowered.

Managing water activity includes the addition of binders such as fibers, gums and phosphates. Innophos, Cranbury, NJ, offers a phosphate blend for meat and poultry marinades that assists with sodium reduction while effectively binding water and improving yield. Applications include everything from deli meats to hot dogs.

“Depending on the application, we have data showcasing anywhere from a 10% to 45% reduction in sodium,” said Amr Shaheed, technical services and application development manager.

Potineni said that the industry is moving forward on FDA’s guidance.

“Meat and poultry processors are quite interested in sodium reduction as this has been on their radar for some time now,” he said. “They’re also interested in clean-label solutions that reduce the number of chemical-sounding ingredients on their labels. Any sodium reduction solutions must maintain the protection of the food’s safety while meeting goals of reducing sodium content.”