Restaurants Seek Alternatives as FDA's Salt Crackdown Looms
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Watching your sodium intake? So is the FDA.
Last week, Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Margaret Hamburg told the Associated Press that the FDA is preparing voluntary guidelines urging the food industry to lower sodium levels.
The FDA estimates that 90 percent of Americans consume more sodium than they should, and that the majority of their salt intake (77 percent) comes from packaged and restaurant food, making those industries prime targets for the looming crackdown.
While there's no word on when the guidelines will be released (last year, the agency said the rules would be completed this year), restaurants have begun taking action. Fast-food joints such as McDonald's are pushing low-sodium choices for the increasingly health-conscious customer, but the same restaurants are also trying to cut salt in stealthier ways.
And for good reason. As The Wall Street Journal reports, while restaurants are under government and activist pressure to decrease salt levels in their recipes, consumers often assume that "low sodium" means "flavorless." For example, when McDonald's announced plans to start cooking French fries in oil free of trans fats in 2002, customers swiftly protested the new fries inferior taste – even in cities where nothing had yet changed.
While restaurants either try to sneakily siphon salt out of their recipes or attempt to appeal to the health-conscious customers with low sodium options, other parts of the industry are focusing on finding alternatives to salt.
Morton Salt is taking the coming attack on the salt industry head on. On Sunday, the company announced the launch of a new $1 million food lab dedicated to exploring reduced sodium options.
“We know sodium reduction remains a top priority for many of our customers within the food industry," said John MacKinnon, Morton Salt's director of technology and innovation. "We also know that taste is still king with consumers."
Taste may be king for consumers, but the government remains a powerful ruler for restaurants. The future of salt in the food industry is evolving, and its role will only shift more as the FDA's guidelines are released. Be on the lookout for new low-sodium offerings and salt alternatives in the coming months.