Guiding Benchmark Sodium Reduction Levels for Processed Foods

Health Canada's Guiding Benchmark Sodium Reduction Levels for Processed Foods were developed after significant engagement and feedback from stakeholders. Health Canada's guidance provides specific sodium levels for processed food categories and is intended to serve as a guide for the food industry to reduce sodium in their products as a means of helping Canadians reach the 2016 average sodium intake goal of 2300 mg per day. Some manufacturers have expressed the desire to reduce sodium levels all at once in their products while others prefer a gradual approach. In order to help guide manufacturers wishing to reduce sodium gradually phased levels have been suggested. Regardless of the approach taken manufacturers are encouraged to meet the phase 3 benchmark levels by the end of 2016 and, if possible, go beyond them over time to the lowest level possible while taking into consideration factors such as microbial safety, quality and consumer acceptance. Manufacturers are also encouraged to focus on reducing sodium in foods targeted to children.

Because sodium is found in many foods that we eat daily, guiding benchmark sodium reduction levels have been set for almost all processed food categories that contain added sodium. Manufacturers are asked to apply this guidance to all processed food products regardless of whether the foods are destined for consumers, other food manufacturers, or for the foodservice and restaurant sectors.

While companies are encouraged to voluntarily work towards meeting the sodium reduction levels, this does not supersede any existing obligations to comply with all applicable legislative and regulatory provisions for the production, marketing and sale of foods in Canada.

For details on how the Guiding Benchmarks Levels were set, please visit the Guidance for the Food Industry on Reducing Sodium in Processed Foods.

Sales Weighted Average (SWA) and Maximum Levels

Health Canada conducted a consultation in November 2010 to obtain feedback on the potential implications of setting levels as SWAs and/or Maximums. This feedback helped inform Health Canada's decision. The 2016 guiding benchmark sodium reduction levels are set as both a SWAs and Maximum levels. Companies are encouraged to meet both components of the level by the end of 2016. The staged sodium reduction phases have been set only as SWAs.

The Maximum levels have been set with the goal for the sodium content for all processed foods in that category to fall below the Maximum value by the end of 2016. Maximums are set to curb the sodium amounts in the foods with the most sodium within each category.

The SWA is measured using the sodium levels of the products within a category weighted by their Canadian volume market share. The proportion of the market is measured as the kilogram (kg) volume of sales of a product rather than the dollar value. To meet the SWA sodium reduction level, manufacturers are encouraged to adjust the sodium amount of all their products within the category, so that the SWA of all their products is equal to, or less than, the SWA level set for the category. Companies are encouraged to aim for a sodium level (weighted by sales volume in kg) of their product portfolio within a category to meet the SWA benchmark levels.

For more information on SWA versus Maximum, please visit the Guidance for the Food Industry on Reducing Sodium in Processed Foods.

Advantages of Setting Sodium Reduction Benchmarks Using Both SWA and Maximums Levels

  • Promotes a downward shift of both the average sodium intake in Canada, as well as that of individuals with the highest sodium intakes.
  • The use of a SWA encourages reformulation in the most popular products in the category which in turn has the broadest potential impact on sodium intakes. It is hoped that this will help drive a shift in consumer taste preferences for lower sodium products.
  • A Maximum level encourages reformulation of the products with the highest sodium levels within the category.
  • Provides companies with flexibility to plan reformulation efforts to meet the sodium reduction levels by 2016.

A Sales Weighted Average calculator is available to help food companies calculate the SWA of their products for a given category and compare it to the staged sodium reduction phases and to the 2016 SWA Benchmark Level.

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