Supermarkets and food manufacturers were named and shamed yesterday for failing to reduce salt levels in family staples including baked beans, pizzas and canned pasta.
The Food Standards Agency accused retailers and manufacturers of risking the health of customers after a survey showed salt levels varied widely in similar products. Children's cheese and tomato pizzas from Iceland and Sainsbury had almost three times the level of salt compared with an otherwise identical pizza.
Among products aimed at adults, some had more than half of the maximum recommended daily total of six grams of salt in a single serving. These included own-brand baked beans from Morrisons, Budgens and Somerfield, which all contained 3.2 grams in half a tin (210 grams), 53 per cent of the daily limit. Other high-salt products for adults were Stonebaked Pepperoni Pizzas from Tesco. Half a standard-sized pizza, an adult portion, contained 4.1 grams of salt, 68 per cent of the recommended six-gram daily limit.
The agency's rolling programme is aimed at pressuring the food industry to reduce salt levels. Research shows high levels are linked to high blood pressure, increasing the risk of heart disease and stroke. The agency said high salt consumption was a factor in 170,000 deaths a year in England. The average salt consumption for adults is 9.5 grams. The recommended daily level for children aged seven to 10 is five grams.
Sir John Krebs, chairman of the FSA, said: "Foods such as baked beans, spaghetti and pizza are products families rely on. [For] salt in baked beans, or a pizza, to vary so dramatically indicates that manufacturers can reduce the amount of salt they add to these products. The FSA wants more substantial reductions in salt in food."
The agency commissioned the survey to look at processed food, which contributes three-quarters of the salt in our food. The pizzas from Iceland and Sainsbury's aimed at children contained 1.4 grams of salt per 95-gram portion, equivalent to 28 per cent of the daily requirement of a child and almost three times as much as the Waitrose version, which contained half a gram.
Products for adults also fared badly. A Crisp Fine Base Speciale Pizza from manufacturer Dr Oetker was even higher, with 4.4 grams of salt for the same size portion, 73 per cent of the maximum daily limit.
The survey found high levels of salt in some brands of tinned spaghetti in tomato sauce. The highest were Asda Spaghetti and Spaghetti Loops, and Co-op Spaghetti, which contained 3.7 grams of salt, 62 per cent of the daily maximum.
The agency said some manufacturers had reduced salt since the survey in January and February. "But levels still need to reduce substantially across the full range of processed foods to reach the target of six grams a day by 2010," it said.
Professor Graham MacGregor, chair of the pressure group Consensus Action on Salt and Health, said: "This research dramatically illustrates that the food industry can produce food with much lower salt content. Why are they not doing so?"
Sainsbury's said: "Sainsbury's has led the way in challenging the levels of salt in its products and in November 2003 was the first UK supermarket to announce challenging salt reduction targets."
BEST AND WORST
Children's cheese and tomato pizza, 95g portion:
Worst: Sainbury's Blue Parrot Café; Iceland Kids Crew
1.4g salt (28% of daily limit)
Best: Waitrose Food Explorers 0.5g (10%)
Standard baked beans, half tin
Worst: Morrisons; Budgens; Somerfield 3.2g (53%)
Best: Co-op; Waitrose; Heinz
2.1g (35%)Reuse content