CHICAGO – Measuring sodium levels in cheese more quickly may aid in cheese industry sodium reduction efforts. Thanks to the efforts of a Cheese and Sodium Best Practices Task Force, in the future the time needed to measure sodium levels may fall to five minutes, as opposed to a current method that may take one day in-house or three to five days if product is sent to an outside source for measuring.

“These rapid results will allow cheese makers to adjust salt levels during the cheese-making process,” said Bill Graves, senior vice-president of product research for the Dairy Research Institute. “The testing results look very, very promising. We currently are testing that equipment in a variety of cheese maker pilot plants.”

Mr. Graves spoke March 20 at the Institute of Food Technologists’ Wellness 14 in Chicago as did Nigel Kirtley, vice-president of research, development, quality and innovation for cheese and dairy for the Kraft Foods Group, Glenview, Ill.

Mr. Kirtley chairs the Cheese and Sodium Best Practices Task Force. Nearly 80% of the cheese volume nationally is represented on the task force as it involves dairy farmers, ingredient suppliers, cheese manufacturers and associations.

Mr. Kirtley said the task force first needed to find out how much sodium was in cheese. A 2009 study of 1,665 samples on the market found much variance in sodium content, both by type and brand of cheese, he said. For cheddar, sodium ranged from 600 mg to 800 mg per 100 grams. For mozzarella, the range was 526 mg to 893 mg, and it was 1,185 mg to 1,740 mg for process singles.

Industry saw a need to reduce sodium variability.

To assist in the effort, a process called rapid direct sodium measurement shows promise. It involves X-ray Fluorescent Spectrometry (XRF) from Oxford Instruments. The energy of the X-ray indicates which elements, such as sodium, are in a cheese and how much of each element is in a cheese, Mr. Graves said. The process takes five minutes.

 “The whole technology appears to be a big win for the cheese industry with potential applications for other foods,” he said.

Mr. Kirtley also talked about food safety progress. Developing newer food safety curves will enable more rapid formulation of safe, reduced sodium cheese products, he said. Some of the curves in operation today are nearly 30 years old.

Thanks to the funding of five cheese makers, testing has focused on seven parameters: the percentage of fat, the percentage of moisture, pH, the percentage of potassium replacement, the percentage of sorbic acid, the percentage of sodium chloride and the percentage of DSP (disodium phosphate) solids equivalent. A statistical publication of the findings may come in the fourth quarter of 2015, he said.

Mr. Kirtley said work on sodium reduction will continue to require collaboration in the industry, including cheese makers, university personnel, equipment suppliers and ingredient suppliers.

“All of those perspectives are invaluable,” he said.