UK: FSA warns on danger of salt in bread and cereals

London / UK. (gov) More than three quarters of people (77 percent) are not aware that bread and breakfast cereals are among the daily foods that contribute most salt to our diet, a new Food Standards Agency (FSA) survey reveals. The survey´s publication marks the launch of the latest stage of the Agency´s work to reduce people´s salt intake.

A new FSA advertising campaign is urging people to pay closer attention to the salt levels in the foods they are buying. The campaign features foods that make significant contributions to the salt intakes of UK adults and children. The salt levels of these foods vary across brands, so the campaign encourages people to reduce the amount of salt we eat by checking labels on foods and choosing those that are lower in salt. Too much salt can lead to high blood pressure, which triples the risk of heart disease and stroke and doubles the chance of dying from these diseases.

Industry activities in the UK

About 75 percent of the salt we eat is already in the foods we buy, the majority in processed foods. The British FSA has been working with the food industry to encourage reductions in the levels of salt in these foods. All sectors of the food industry – retailers, manufacturers, trade associations, caterers and suppliers to the catering industry – have responded positively to calls to reduce salt in foods and continue to be engaged in this programme.

Salt targets

In May 2009 the Agency published revised voluntary salt reduction targets for 2012 for 80 categories of foods, replacing the previous targets for 2010.

The aim of the targets is to help guide the food industry as to the type of foods in which salt reductions are required, and the level of reduction needed to help progression towards the FSA’s strategic plan target of reducing salt intake to 6g per day.

The number of categories has been reduced from 85 to 80 as some were redefined or joined together when, following discussions with industry, it became clear that separate categories were not necessary for some foods. The targets cover 80 categories of processed foods, including everyday foods such as bread, bacon, ham, breakfast cereals and cheese, and convenience foods such as pizza, ready meals, savoury snacks, cakes and pastries.

The earlier voluntary salt reduction targets were published in March 2006, when the Agency made a commitment to review the targets in 2008 to assess industry progress towards meeting the targets and to determine what further reductions could be made to maintain progress towards the daily population average intake target of 6g.

The review, between December 2007 and July 2008, took account of reductions achieved so far, current salt levels in products, technical constraints, food safety issues, consumer acceptability, independent advice and data on current intakes.

In July 2008 a public consultation was launched on proposals to revise targets for a limited range of food categories for 2010, and new targets for most foods for 2012. Since the consultation closed in October 2008, consideration has been given to the responses received and the issues raised, in particular to further assess the costs associated with reformulation work and to finalise the impact assessment. For further information on the review of the salt targets, see:

  • Impact Assessment of the revised salt reduction targets (PDF file)
  • Salt reduction targets for 2010 and 2012 (Excel file)
  • Consultation details and responses on proposals to revise voluntary salt reduction targets


UK retailers, including Asda, Boots, Budgens, Co-op, Iceland, Marks and Spencer, Sainsbury’s, Somerfield, Spar, Tesco and Waitrose, are all working towards the FSA’s voluntary salt reduction targets.

In January 2008 Asda indicated that it had met all the FSA’s salt targets.
Boots sandwiches now meet the FSA salt targets.
Budgens, Iceland and Somerfield are working towards achieving the salt targets by 2010 (the original deadline set) and have products that already meet the salt targets.
Co-op and Waitrose are aiming to meet the targets before 2010.
Marks and Spencer is aiming to meet the FSA targets in key areas as a maximum, rather than an average.
Sainsbury’s is working towards achieving the targets and states that it has already met the target for its own-brand standard sliced bread, which is one of the top three products in Sainsbury’s shoppers’ baskets. It has also met the 2010 targets in 80 percent of its own-brand products, including breakfast cereal, ready meals, bread and soups.
Spar is aiming to meet the targets by 2010.
Half of Tesco own-brand products (50 percent) now meet the salt targets.


Major manufacturers, such as Arla Foods, Bernard Matthews, Birds Eye, Cadbury Schweppes, Heinz, Kellogs, Kerry Foods, Kraft, McCain, Nestl?, Northern Foods, Pepsico, Premier Foods, Procter & Gamble, Unilever, United Biscuits and Vion Foods, are all working towards achieving the salt reduction targets.

Arla Foods has committed to up to a 50 percent salt reduction in its soft cheese range and has already achieved a reduction of 15 percent in butter.
Bernard Matthews, Cadbury Schweppes and Northern Foods are aiming to meet the targets by 2010.
Birds Eye ready meals now all contain less than 2g of salt.
Heinz has stated that it has reduced the amount of salt in baked beans and canned pasta by around one-third and in children’s pasta ranges by 59 percent. It has also introduced a new reduced-salt ketchup that has a level below the FSA’s 2010 salt target.
Kerry Foods has reduced the level of salt in its standard cheese slices by 32 percent and in its reduced fat slices by 21 percent.
Kraft has reduced levels of salt in its cheese spreads and snack products by 33 percent.
McCain has halved the salt content of some of its potato products and has launched a ‘no added salt’ product.
Across the range, Nestle now meets the FSA 2010 targets for its breakfast cereals.
PepsiCo has removed 25 percent of the salt from its standard Walkers Crisps and Walkers Lights, and has reduced levels in its Walkers Sensations by around 45 percent. It has also reduced levels of salt in a number of its snack products by between 25 percent and 55 percent.
Premier Foods is reformulating many Batchelors products to meet the 2010 targets, for example its Batchelors range of savory rice, for which sodium levels will be reduced by up to 70 percent.
Unilever states that it has developed a nutrition enhancement programme, which benchmarks for the foods that they produce to target a dietary intake of 2400mg of sodium per day by the end of 2010 and a daily intake of 2000mg by 2015.
United Biscuits has reduced the amount of salt in its top selling biscuits by about a fifth. In its crisps and snacks portfolio it has achieved a 13 percent sodium reduction and will continue to make further reductions.
From January 2008, Vion Food Group (a Dutch bacon manufacturer providing 25 percent of UK bacon sales) reduced the average level of salt in its products to 3.5g salt per 100g


Since 2008, the Agency has been working with industry to secure voluntary commitments on healthier catering. More than 40 of the UK’s major catering companies (including two of largest suppliers to the foodservice sector) have now published the activities they are undertaking on procurement, menu planning, consumer information, and kitchen practice. All companies have activities relating to salt reduction, the vast majority using the FSA’s salt targets to benchmark and monitor progress, while others are using the Agency’s traffic light nutrient guidelines in a similar way. Some of the companies involved include: Brakes, Compass Group, Costa, KFC, McDonalds, Pizza Hut and Subway.

Brakes has an ongoing salt reduction programme, and 70 percent of its product sales now meet the FSA’s 2010 salt targets (an increase from 50 percent in January 2008).
Compass Group, a large contract caterer that provides meals to schools and hospitals, has a programme to review levels of salt in products and requires suppliers to meet, or to be working towards, the FSA salt targets.
Costa announced that in 2008 it reduced the salt level in paninis by approximately 14 percent which now meet the FSA 2010 salt targets for bread products. The company also stated that, where possible, the recipes for all food products will be reformulated in 2009 to meet the FSA 2010 salt targets.
KFC no longer pre-salts its fries.
McDonalds has reduced the amount of salt in its products by between 14 percent and 75 percent and is continuing to make further reductions.
Pizza Hut has had a salt reduction programme since 2004, reporting a 30 percent reduction to date across its menus
By June 2009, Subway announced that all Subs will have a 15 percent reduction in sodium. By 2010, more than 75 percent of their Subs and salads will meet the FSA 2010 salt target.

Healthy catering commitments

Trade Associations

Association of Cereal Food Manufacturers (ACFM), Biscuit, Chocolate, Cake and Confectionery Association (BCCCA), Federation of Bakers (FoB), Food and Drink Federation (FDF), and the Snacks, Nuts and Crisps Manufacturers Association (SNCMA) are working towards salt reduction.

Between 1998-2007, the ACFM has reduced the amount of sodium in breakfast cereals by 44 percent.
Since February 2006, the BCCCA has further reduced levels of salt in biscuits by between 25 percent and 45 percent and in cakes by 25 percent.
The FoB has reduced by about a third (30 percent )the amount of salt in pre-packed sliced bread, which accounts for about 80 percent of the bread sold in the UK.
The FDF, as part of Project Neptune, has reduced the amount of salt in soups and sauces by a quarter (25 percent and 29 percent respectively) between 2003 and 2005.
In 2007, SNCMA achieved salt reductions of 13 percent in crisps, 32 percent in extruded snacks and 27 percent in pelleted snacks.