The Safety of Sodium Reduction in the Food Supply: A Cross Discipline Balancing Act

Washington, DC, USA
September 22, 2015

A Collaboration between the ILSI North America Technical Committees on Food Microbiology and Sodium

Workshop Summary

Extensive debate continues on how to lower sodium intakes of the population given that previous campaigns, related to labeling and education, have had minimal impact. The workshop objective was to connect the dots with the nutrition and public health community on why sodium reduction has been so challenging due in large part to the variety of microbial and functional roles sodium plays across different food categories. The workshop provided greater knowledge and appreciation of these challenges.

The workshop broadened the dialogue and presented what we have learned in the last 5 years since the release of the Institute of Medicine’s Strategies to Reduce Sodium Intake in the United States Report about the functional challenges with sodium reduction. Speakers included the USDA Undersecretary and Chief Scientist Catherine Woteki, PhD, and FDA Office of Food Additive Safety scientist, Casey Heintz, and experts from the Monell Institute, academia, and industry. The workshop provided an opportunity for nearly 75 experts including microbiologists, food scientists, public health professionals, and nutritionists to come together and discuss current initiatives, potential technologies, and how their challenges vary between sectors. Attendees included experts from FDA, USDA, CDC, NIH, Health Canada, the New York City Department of Health, Institute of Medicine Food & Nutrition Board, American Heart Association, Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, Institute of Food Technology, among others.

The recommendation from the nutrition community has been to lower sodium in incremental steps so better taste acceptance is achieved in the lower sodium product. However, from a microbial food safety perspective, small changes in a product’s formulation requires that a new process validation is undertaken by the manufacturer for the new product formulation which requires sufficient time and resources depending on the product category.

Discussion focused on the challenges faced when reducing or replacing sodium in foods, including technical challenges such as flavor profiles, unwanted chemical reactions and changes in texture; microbiological challenges such as decreasing water activity and reducing growth of pathogens and food spoilage organisms; and regulatory challenges and implications associated with replacing sodium chloride. Questions raised during the workshop wondered if consumers are willing to accept shorter shelf life for lower sodium levels and if an unintended consequence is increased food waste? In the effort to safely reduce sodium, the experts made recommendations on where scientific research is needed in order to make recommendations leading to improved public health.

The workshop provided an outline of potential next steps in how to approach this enormous public health challenge in a systematic manner. With such a complex task at hand, even small steps are incredibly important and are the most realistic way to make progress.

Videos and Presentations

ILSI North America experienced technical difficulties with the audio of the some of the presentations filmed during the workshop. The audio has been edited to elevate the quality as much as possible, but we apologize for any difficulty you have in hearing the presentations.

Introductory Remarks from Moderators
Christine Taylor, FDA (retired) & Michael Doyle, University of Georgia

Sodium Reduction – A Practical Path Forward
Kasey Heintz, FDA CFSAN

Catherine Woteki, USDA

Non-Microbiological Functional Roles of Sodium in Food

Introduction to Functional and Quality Applications of Sodium
Kathy Groves, Leatherhead Food Research

Texture/Mouthfeel in Grain Products 
Janice Johnson, Cargill, Incorporated

Salt Taste and Substitutes
Paul Breslin, Monell Institute

Regulatory Considerations (Claims / Standards of Identity)
Kantha Shelke, Corvus Blue

Case Study: Soup
Patricia Zecca, Campbell Soup Company

Case Study: Regulatory and Policy Considerations of Sodium Reduction in Dairy Foods
Edith Wilkin, Leprino Foods Co.

Case Study: Salt Substitutes
Janice Johnson, Cargill, Incorporated

Discussant Panel
Moderated by Kathy Groves, Leatherhead Food Research

Microbiological Roles of Sodium in Food

Introduction: Salt and Sodium Preservatives for Microbiological Stability
Michael Doyle, University of Georgia

Processed (Cured and Deli) Meats 
Jeff Sindelar, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Microbial Considerations in Reduced Sodium Cheese and Other Dairy Products
Kathleen Glass, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Functional Role of Sodium in Refrigerated Dough and Refrigerated Dough Spoilage and Waste
Dave Domingues, General Mills Inc.

Case Study: Meat
Peter Taormina, Smithfield Foods

Case Study: Cheese/Dairy
Bill Graves, National Dairy Council

Discussant Panel
Moderated by Michael Doyle, University of Georgia

Closing Remarks
Christine Taylor, FDA (retired) & Michael Doyle, University of Georgia