Guidance for the Food Industry on Reducing Sodium in Processed Foods
Table of Contents
- Purpose and Scope
- Roles and Responsibilities
- Background: Basis for Guidance on Reducing the Sodium Intake in Canada
- Educational Tools and Key Messages
- Reducing Sodium Levels in the Food Supply: A Voluntary Approach
- Monitoring the Sodium Intakes of Canadians
- Acceptable Labelling/Advertising Statements Regarding Sodium
- Appendix A: Guiding Benchmark Sodium Reduction Levels for Processed Foods: Data Table
- Appendix B: Sales Weighted Average (SWA) and Maximum Levels
- Appendix C: Guiding Benchmark Sodium Reduction Levels: Frequently Asked Questions
Purpose and Scope
The purpose of this document is to provide guidance to the food industry for lowering the sodium levels in processed foods.
Canadians are eating too much sodium - almost double the amount they require. Our bodies need a small amount of sodium, but too much can lead to high blood pressure which is a major risk factor for stroke, heart disease and kidney disease. Federal, Provincial and Territorial (FPT) governments recognize that the Canadian food industry has already initiated sodium reduction in processed and packaged food products available for sale in Canada. This guidance document will provide further direction to the food industry to continue sodium reduction efforts and help Canadians achieve the average sodium intake goal of 2300 mg per day by 2016.
Roles and Responsibilities
Sodium reduction is a shared responsibility amongst food industry, FPT governments and consumers. FPT governments and stakeholders are working together to reduce the amount of sodium in Canadians' diets. This work includes public awareness and education activities to assist individuals so they can make informed food choices, guidance to the food industry about ways to reduce sodium in processed foods, and research to learn more about sodium reduction in the areas of food science and health.
Roles of Food Industry
- To comply with all applicable legislative and regulatory provisions for the production, marketing and sale of foods in Canada.
- To aim for sodium reduction in foods - whether these foods are destined for consumers, other food manufacturers or the restaurant and foodservice sectors - to the lowest level possible while maintaining food safety and consumer acceptance.
Roles of Government
- To help create conditions that promote the healthier choice as the easier choice for consumers. Sodium reduction is an important part of healthy living and FPT governments have and will continue to work together towards supporting Canadians in their sodium reduction efforts.
- To support the reduction of Canadians' average sodium intake to 2300 mg per day by 2016, through an awareness and education campaign to inform Canadians on sodium as part of healthy eating.
- To provide guidance to the food industry to safely lower the amount of sodium in processed foods.
- To support research related to sodium reduction in the areas of food science and food technology, health and human physiology, and evaluation and monitoring.
Roles of Canadian Consumers
- To become more aware of nutrition issues and food composition with the aim of making more informed choices at the grocery store, while cooking at home, or when eating out.
- To educate themselves and their families on healthy living practices, including healthy eating and adequate physical activity.
Background: Basis for Guidance on Reducing the Sodium Intake in Canada
Sodium and Health
Sodium is an essential nutrient that is required in small amounts for the normal functioning of the body. However, excessive amounts of sodium have been shown to cause high blood pressure (hypertension). The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that high blood pressure is the leading preventable risk factor for death in the world.Footnote 1 Hypertension is a major cause of cardiovascular disease and stroke, which are the second and third leading causes of death in Canada.Footnote 2 In Canada, 19% of Canadian adults aged 20 to 79 years are considered hypertensive and another 20% are classified as prehypertensive.Footnote 3
In 2004, the Institute of Medicine of the U.S. National Academies (IOM) set Dietary Reference Intakes (DRI's) for sodium.Footnote 4 The Adequate Intake (AI) was set at 1500 mg per day for those aged 9 to 50 years, with lower values for younger and older individuals. The AI is a recommended intake level, thought to meet or exceed the requirements of almost all individuals. The Tolerable Upper Intake Level (UL) for sodium was set at 2300 mg per day for people aged 14 years and over, with lower values for those less than 14 years of age. The UL has been defined as the highest average daily level of intake likely to pose no risk of adverse health effects, and reflects an intake level that should not be exceeded. Individuals with hypertension, diabetes and chronic kidney disease, as well as older-aged persons and those of African origin, who are more sensitive to the blood pressure raising effects of sodium, should limit their intake to even lower levels.
High sodium intake is a global health issue. In 2003, as a result of the high sodium intakes around the world, the WHO recommended a worldwide intake target of less than 5 grams salt (or 2000 mg sodium) per day per person.Footnote 5
The Canadian Situation
The current average intake of sodium by Canadians is about 3400 mg per day. This is more than double the amount that Canadians require. Data from the 2004 Canadian Community Health Survey (CCHS) 2.2Footnote 6 indicate that among people aged 9 to 70, over 85% of men and between 63% and 83% of women had sodium intakes exceeding the UL. Similarly, in young children, 77% of those aged 1 to 3 and 93% of those aged 4 to 8 years had intakes exceeding the UL. Among males in their teen years, the data indicated that 97% exceed the UL, and 82% exceed the UL for females in the same age group.
The primary source of sodium in the Canadian diet is salt (sodium chloride). Other sources that contribute to Canadians' sodium intake include the flavour enhancer monosodium glutamate and food additives such as sodium benzoate, sodium bicarbonate, sodium citrate, sodium nitrite and sodium acid pyrophosphate. The majority of sodium found in the typical diet comes from processed food products, accounting for about 77% of Canadians' total sodium intake. In addition, naturally occurring sodium accounts for 12% of intake, while discretionary sources account for only 11% (with 6% added at the table and 5% added during cooking).Footnote 7 Thus, 88% of all the sodium in the diet is added during food manufacturing or preparation and is not present naturally.
In October 2007, the federal Minister of Health, Tony Clement, announced the creation of the expert Sodium Working Group (SWG). The SWG's mandate was to develop a population-health strategy to reduce sodium in the diets of Canadians. This mandate was achieved with the SWG's release of its report, the Sodium Reduction Strategy on July 29, 2010.Footnote 8 In September 2010, the Canadian Health Ministers met and agreed to work towards lowering the average sodium intake of Canadians to 2300 mg per day by 2016. Health Canada will continue to consult its Food Expert Advisory Committee (FEAC) on its initiatives to support Canadians in their efforts to reduce sodium intakes.
Health Benefits of Sodium Reduction
Dietary sodium reduction is a cost-effective and efficient health intervention to reduce blood pressure and the risk of cardiovascular disease. In Canada, it has been estimated that if the average sodium intake is decreased by 1840 mg a day, high blood pressure prevalence would decrease by 30%. This would result in approximately one million fewer Canadians with high blood pressure and direct annual cost savings of $430 million due to fewer physician visits, laboratory tests and prescriptions for associated medications.Footnote 9 This reduction would also prevent an estimated 23 500 cardiovascular disease events per year in Canada - a decrease of 13% over current numbers, with an additional $949 million annually in direct savings. Overall, reducing sodium intake by 1800 mg per person per day would result in direct health care savings of $1.38 billion per year, and if indirect costs were included the savings would reach $2.99 billion per year.Footnote 10,Footnote 11 It should be noted that these calculations are based on 1993 costs and would likely be much greater in current dollars.
International Sodium Reduction Efforts
A number of jurisdictions have also launched initiatives to reduce the sodium intake of their populations, most notably Finland, the United Kingdom, the European Union and, most recently, New York City.
Finland launched a successful salt reduction campaign as part of a comprehensive strategy to lower the high incidence of cardiovascular disease in 1979. It is estimated that industry has reformulated a variety of product groups which resulted in a reduced salt content of approximately 20% to 25%.Footnote 12 This comprehensive approach has resulted in a one-third reduction in average sodium intake, from over 5000 mg per day in 1980 to about 3300 mg in 2002. This reduction contributed to a decrease of more than 10 mm Hg in the population average systolic and diastolic blood pressure, along with a 75% decrease in both stroke and coronary heart disease mortality.Footnote 13,Footnote 14
In the United Kingdom, the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN) recommended in 2003 that salt intake be reduced from a population average of 3800 mg sodium to 2400 mg sodium by 2010. The average daily intake of sodium decreased from 3800 mg in 2001 to 3440 mg in 2008.Footnote 15 To help guide the food industry regarding the types of foods where reductions are required, and the level of reductions that are needed to help reduce consumer intake, the Food Standards Agency proposed targets for salt levels in a wide range of food categories, finalized in 2006. In 2008, progress towards achieving these targets was assessed and revised targets were published for 2012.Footnote 16
The European Union has undertaken initiatives to limit salt consumption by people in its member states. In 2008, the European Commission established the E.U. Framework for National Salt Initiatives with the overall goal of contributing towards meeting the WHO or national recommendations on salt intake. A minimum benchmark of 16% salt reduction over four years for all food products was established, also encompassing salt consumed in restaurants and catering. Twelve categories of foods were identified as a priority; each member state must choose at least five.Footnote 17
In 2008, the New York City Health Department initiated a nationwide effort to reduce the salt levels in processed and restaurant foods. Under the Health Department's leadership, a coalition of stakeholders worked with food industry leaders on a voluntary framework to decrease the sodium content of foods by 25% to obtain a 20% reduction in sodium intake in five years. In 2010, New York City published sodium targets for packaged and processed foods, as well as restaurant foods to be reached by 2014.Footnote 18,Footnote 19
Educational Tools and Key Messages for Canadians
Most Canadians are aware that high sodium intake is a health concern but do not consider it "their own problem". Very few Canadians understand the sodium level that is considered healthy and most continue to have high sodium intakes. Although many have decided not to put salt on the table or add it during cooking, they continue to consume high sodium processed foods. Awareness and education continues therefore to be a priority.Footnote 20
Messages developed to educate consumers should emphasize that Canadians are eating too much sodium, its impact on health, and identify the main food sources that contribute to sodium intake. It is hoped that increasing the awareness and education of Canadians about sodium and its impact on health will help to reduce the average sodium intake in Canada and contribute to decreasing Canadians' risk of high blood pressure, stroke, and heart and kidney disease. It is anticipated that increasing awareness will also support sodium reduction across the food supply by creating a greater demand for lower sodium products.
British Columbia's Ministry of Health, Dietitians of Canada, EatRight Ontario and Health Canada worked collaboratively to develop and test sodium reduction messages and tips with the public and Registered Dietitians across Canada. These national sodium reduction messages and tips can be used collectively or separately when developing healthy eating resources aimed at helping Canadians reduce their sodium intake. For more information visit Educational Tools and Key Messages on Health Canada's sodium Website and the sodium page on the Healthy Canadians Website.
Reducing Sodium Levels in the Food Supply: A Voluntary Approach
Over 75% of the sodium consumed by Canadians is found in processed food. To help meet the goal of reducing the average daily sodium intake to 2300 mg by 2016, FPT governments have encouraged all stakeholders to voluntarily include sodium reduction in their guidelines, policies and procedures. The Canadian food industry has already initiated sodium reduction in processed and packaged food products and Health Canada continues to encourage them in these efforts.
This guidance is based on a gradual and phased reduction approach which will help contribute to bringing average sodium intakes closer to the goal of 2300 mg per day by 2016. The guidance includes proposed sodium reduction levels for processed foods as guiding benchmarks.
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. 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.
Setting Guiding Benchmark Sodium Reduction Levels for Processed Foods
Guiding benchmark sodium levels were established with the goal of achieving the 2016 average sodium intake goal set by FPT Health Ministers (2300 mg per day). Health Canada used Canadian ACNielsen market volume data (2008-2010) to design a plan for sampling individual products and grouping them into categories. Sodium data was obtained from approximately 10000 food labels collected between 2009 and 2010, either directly from manufacturers, from stores across Canada, or from company websites.
The amount of sodium in each food category was determined using information from the products' Nutrition Facts table. The Sales Weighted Average (SWA) sodium content in milligrams per 100 grams was calculated using the sodium levels of the products within a category weighted by their Canadian volume market share in kilograms (kg). For feasibility purposes, the majority of the guiding benchmark sodium reduction levels have been set at levels currently observed in the marketplace for each specific food category.
In most cases, the 2016 proposed SWA sodium levels were established by reducing the baseline SWA sodium content by approximately 25% to 30%. If the 25% to 30% reduction led to a level below the 10th percentile of the current sodium range for the product category, the 10th percentile was used as the proposed SWA level for the category. The phased levels typically represent, respectively, 1/3 and 2/3 of the reduction required to meet the 2016 guiding benchmark SWA levels and are meant to help guide the industry towards meeting the 2016 SWA sodium levels. The majority of the 2016 Maximum levels correspond to the 75th percentile of the sodium levels observed in each food category. Some exceptions were applied when specific food safety or technological issues were documented.
Statisticians modelled the sodium reduction levels to estimate how much sodium would be consumed by Canadians if the sodium levels in processed foods were reduced to the 2016 benchmark levels. Modelling was based on food intake records from the Canadian Community Health Survey (CCHS) along with sodium levels obtained from food product labels collected between 2009 and 2010. Sodium reduction in processed foods alone is not expected to achieve the average intake goal of 2300 mg/day, so an awareness and education campaign is essential to help Canadians achieve that sodium intake level.
By the end of 2016, companies are encouraged to lower the sodium amount of both:
- their product portfolio to meet, or be below, the 2016 SWA levels for each food category,
- their individual products to meet or be below the Maximum level for the food category
The guidance proposed to industry is iterative. Health Canada will monitor the progress of sodium reduction in the population through the CCHS-nutrition survey which allows Health Canada to measure the impacts of overall changes in the food environment and through changes in dietary patterns and consumer food choices. While manufacturers may decide to reduce sodium levels all at once, sodium reduction benchmark levels are presented in a phased manner to help guide gradual sodium reduction. This phased approach aligns with other international sodium reduction efforts. Gradual reductions can help consumers' taste palates gradually adapt to the change in taste and therefore increase consumer acceptance of lower sodium foods. It is believed that it will take time for consumers to adjust taste preference towards less salty foods, although evidence indicates that individuals may adapt in a matter of weeks.Footnote 21
Guiding Benchmark Sodium Reduction Levels for Processed Foods: Summary Table
The proposed sales-weighted average levels apply to the sales-weighted average sodium for a company's products within the category. The maximum level applies to individual products within the category.
Note: Available on Health Canada's website is an interactive version of this summary table.
Monitoring the Sodium Intakes of Canadians
Should sodium levels in the food supply decrease to the guiding benchmark levels and Canadians improve their eating patterns, it is anticipated that the average sodium intake in Canada would decrease to approximately 2300 mg per day, the 2016 intake goal. Health Canada is in the process of developing a number of tools and activities for assessing progress towards the success of sodium reduction initiatives by stakeholders.
Elements of this monitoring and evaluation plan include:
- Measuring changes in population sodium intake through the CCHS-nutrition. This survey is slated to be repeated in 2015, and will provide current food intake data that can be used to evaluate whether sodium intakes and dietary patterns have changed in Canada since 2004.
- Engaging the food industry to discuss their sodium reduction efforts and activities, as well as challenges faced by these stakeholders.
- Using the Canadian Total Diet Study (TDS) as a supporting data source to assess sodium content of food composites and estimate changes in sodium intakes.
- Reporting on work relating to the % Daily Value (%DV) for sodium as part of the overall review of elements required to be declared on the Nutrition Facts table.
- Reporting on procurement policies in publicly funded institutions in Canada. The development of a common framework for food procurement programs in Canada is under consideration.
- Tracking and reporting on priority scheduling and expedited handling of food additive submissions related to sodium reduction. Health Canada is committed to streamlining the food additive process for low sodium alternatives.
- Reporting on research initiatives and grants funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) and others, and increasing research capacity related to sodium reduction in Canada.
Acceptable Labelling/Advertising Statements Regarding Sodium
Nutrient Content Claims
Section B.01.502 of the Food and Drug Regulations (FDR) prohibits the use of statements, expressed or implied, that characterize the amount of nutrients, including sodium, contained in the food, other than those set out in column 4 of the table following section B.01.513 (provided that it meets the conditions for those claims).
Below, is a list of acceptable nutrient content claims, associated compositional conditions for making these claims and the FDR text for the full set of conditions to be met when making these nutrient content claims.
"Free of sodium or salt" (Item 31): Permitted if the food contains (a) less than 5 mg of sodium per reference amount and serving of stated size; or (b) less than 5 mg of sodium per serving of stated size, if the food is a prepackaged meal.
"Low in sodium or salt" (Item 32): Permitted if the food contains (a) 140 mg or less of sodium per reference amount and serving of stated size and, if the reference amount is 30 g or 30 mL or less, per 50 g; or (b) 140 mg or less of sodium per 100 g, if the food is a prepackaged meal.
"Reduced in sodium or salt" (Item 33): Permitted if (1) The food is processed, formulated, reformulated or otherwise modified so that it contains at least 25% less sodium (a) per reference amount of the food, than the reference amount of the similar reference food; or (b) per 100 g, than 100 g of the similar reference food, if the food is a prepackaged meal. (2) The similar reference food does not meet the conditions set out in column 2 of item 32 for the subject "low in sodium or salt" set out in column 1.
"Lower in sodium or salt" (Item 34): Permitted if (1) The food contains at least 25% less sodium (a) per reference amount of the food, than the reference amount of the reference food of the same food group; or (b) per 100 g, than 100 g of the reference food of the same food group, if the food is a prepackaged meal. (2) The reference food of the same food group does not meet the conditions set out in column 2 of item 32 for the subject "low in sodium or salt" set out in column 1.
"No added sodium or salt" (Item 35): Permitted if (1) The food contains no added salt, other sodium salts or ingredients that contain sodium that functionally substitute for added salt. (2) The similar reference food does not meet the conditions set out in column 2 of item 32 for the subject "low in sodium or salt" set out in column 1 and contains added salt or other sodium salts.
"Lightly salted" (Item 36): Permitted if (1) The food contains at least 50% less added sodium than the sodium added to the similar reference food. (2) The similar reference food does not meet the conditions set out in column 2 of item 32 for the subject "low in sodium or salt" set out in column 1.
Additional information on the requirements for nutrient content claims can be found in Chapter 7 of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency's (CFIA) Guide to Food Labelling and Advertising and sections B.01.502 to B.01.506, B.01.508, and B.01.511 to B.01.513 of the FDR.
Comparative Claims Related to Sodium
Comparative claims for sodium are those specified in items 33 and 34 in the table following B.01.513 of the FDR (see above). For example, for a food to carry the reduced in sodium/salt claim it must contain at least 25% less sodium compared to the reference food (Item 33). For a food to carry the lower in sodium/salt claim it must contain at least 25% less sodium compared to the reference food of the same food group (item 34). Please see actual text in the FDR for additional conditions to be met when making these nutrient content claims.
Enquiries have been made to Health Canada to amend the Regulations to allow for claims to be made when the sodium reduction is less than 25%. Health Canada considered this option, however determined that a minimum reduction of 25% will be retained for comparative claims. Tolerances outlined in the Nutrition Labelling Compliance Test can be up to 20% for the nutrient declaration and furthermore, reductions less than 25% are not considered meaningful and have the potential of being misleading to the consumer.
Health Claims Related to Sodium
Health Canada allows a number of science-based disease risk reduction claims to be used on food labels or in advertisements. A complete list of permitted statements and claims, and conditions for their use, can be found in the table following section B.01.603 of the FDR. The permitted claim related to sodium pertains to the relationship between a low sodium diet and a reduced risk of heart disease and stroke.
The following statements are the permitted wording for the health claim for a low sodium diet and reduced risk of stroke and heart disease. In order to use one of these statements, the food must meet all of the relevant conditions set out for the claim. Please see actual text in the FDR for conditions to be met when making these health claims.
(1) "A healthy diet containing foods high in potassium and low in sodium may reduce the risk of high blood pressure, a risk factor for stroke and heart disease. (Naming the food) is sodium-free."
(2) "A healthy diet containing foods high in potassium and low in sodium may reduce the risk of high blood pressure, a risk factor for stroke and heart disease. (Naming the food) is low in sodium."
(3) "A healthy diet containing foods high in potassium and low in sodium may reduce the risk of high blood pressure, a risk factor for stroke and heart disease. (Naming the food) is a good source of potassium and is sodium-free."
(4) "A healthy diet containing foods high in potassium and low in sodium may reduce the risk of high blood pressure, a risk factor for stroke and heart disease. (Naming the food) is a good source of potassium and is low in sodium."
(5) "A healthy diet containing foods high in potassium and low in sodium may reduce the risk of high blood pressure, a risk factor for stroke and heart disease. (Naming the food) is high in potassium and is sodium-free."
(6) "A healthy diet containing foods high in potassium and low in sodium may reduce the risk of high blood pressure, a risk factor for stroke and heart disease. (Naming the food) is high in potassium and is low in sodium."
More information can be found in Chapter 8 of CFIA's Guide to Food Labelling and Advertising.
Appendix A: Guiding Benchmark Sodium Reduction Levels for Processed Foods: Data Table
The proposed sales-weighted average levels apply to the sales-weighted average sodium for a company's products within the category. The maximum level applies to individual products within the category.
Appendix B: Sales Weighted Average (SWA) and Maximum Levels
In November 2010, Health Canada held a consultation on the issue of using SWA and Maximum levels to calculate the proposed sodium reduction levels. Health Canada presented three options:
- Set levels as SWAs. The SWA is calculated using the sodium levels of the products within a category weighted by their Canadian volume market share in kilograms (kg). To meet a SWA level, manufacturers would adjust the sodium levels in all their products within the category, so that the SWA for the company's products is equal to, or less than, the SWA level set for the category.
- Set levels as Maximums. This means setting sodium limits for individual food categories.
- Set Maximum levels combined with SWA levels. This option is a combination of the two approaches listed above.
Advantages of Setting Sodium Reduction Benchmarks Using Both SWA and Maximum 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.
Based on the analysis of the pros and cons of sodium reduction levels set as SWAs and Maximums, and taking in consideration consultation input, it was decided that for the purpose of establishing gradual reductions and for monitoring sodium reduction, sodium reduction phases should be established as SWAs while the 2016 sodium reduction benchmarks should be comprised of SWA and Maximum levels. By the end of 2016, companies are encouraged to meet both the 2016 SWA and the Maximum level for each food category. Health Canada has developed a SWA Calculator to allow companies to easily calculate the SWA of their product portfolio within a category.
More information on SWA versus Maximum can be found in the Summary Report on Responses to the Consultation on Use of Sales Weighted Averages and/or Maximums.
Appendix C: Guiding Benchmark Sodium Reduction Levels: Frequently Asked Questions
What are the guiding benchmark sodium reduction levels?
The guiding benchmark sodium reduction levels are sodium amounts for processed food categories designed to help guide the food industry in reducing sodium levels in their food products. More than 75% of sodium in the Canadian diet comes from processed foods; lowering the sodium content in these foods will greatly help meet the goal of reducing the population's average sodium intake by approximately 30% to 2300 mg per day by 2016. Canadians are encouraged to increase their awareness of the effect of sodium on their health, as well as choosing a healthy diet that includes lower sodium food products. These choices will help lower Canadians' sodium intake and support industry efforts to offer lower sodium products.
Are food companies expected to meet the guiding benchmark sodium reduction levels?
Health Canada encourages companies to adjust the sodium amounts in their food products to meet the 2016 guiding benchmark sodium reduction levels by the end of 2016 and, if possible, go beyond them over time to the lowest amount possible, taking into consideration factors like microbial safety, quality and consumer acceptance.
Have guiding benchmark sodium reduction levels been set for all foods in the marketplace?
Guiding benchmark sodium reduction levels have been established for almost all processed food categories that contain added sodium. Sodium is very common in the Canadian food supply, so it was important that the approach takes into account reductions across all food categories.
There are foods for which no guiding benchmark sodium reduction levels were set, including those that do not contain sodium or only contain naturally occurring sodium, such as milk, fresh vegetables and fruits, and single ingredient foods like shell eggs, meat, poultry, fish and seafood.
Does a sodium reduction approach exist for foods sold in foodservice establishments or restaurants?
Sodium reduction levels have been proposed for processed foods only. They include processed foods for consumer use; foods for further manufacturing, such as ingredients for processed foods; and foods for use by restaurants and foodservice in food preparation.
How did Health Canada develop the guiding benchmark sodium reduction levels?
Health Canada used Canadian ACNielsen market volume data to design a plan for sampling individual products and grouping them into categories. The Sales Weighted Average (SWA) and range of sodium amounts within each category were determined using information from the products' Nutrition Facts tables and market share information from ACNielsen. The SWA sodium content in milligrams per 100 grams was calculated based on approximately 80% of the Canadian market share in kilograms for each food category. In general, the 2016 SWA sodium levels are percent reductions from the current SWA sodium amount. For food safety and feasibility purposes, the majority of the guiding benchmark sodium reduction levels have been set at a level already found in the marketplace.
Why are the guiding benchmark sodium reduction levels set out by category?
There are thousands of individual food products. It is not necessary or realistic to have guiding benchmark sodium reduction levels for each individual food item. Specific products come and go, but food manufacturers and restaurants continue to sell foods within the same general categories. By setting levels for an entire category, overall sodium levels can be decreased across the food supply.
How did Health Canada select the food categories?
The guiding benchmark sodium reduction levels were designed to cover as many processed food categories as possible, given that sodium is so common in the food supply. The categories used in market share data purchased from ACNielsen were the starting point for product categorization. In addition, the United Kingdom Food Standards Agency and the New York City Department of Health's sodium reduction categories, as well as feedback from stakeholders, were considered when grouping foods and refining the food categories.
What does "label data" mean?
The sodium values were obtained from the Nutrition Facts tables on the labels of processed food products collected from companies, stores and company websites. This is what "label data" refers to.
What is the difference between the Maximum and Sales Weighted Average (SWA) levels?
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 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. To calculate the SWA of your product portfolio within a category, visit the SWA Calculator.
Company X manufactures 10 varieties of crackers under its brand name. By the end of 2016, the average sodium value (weighted by kg sales) for their cracker portfolio may meet or be below the 2016 SWA level for that category. The sodium amount of each individual variety of crackers should not exceed the 2016 Maximum level set for that category.
Note that the guiding benchmark sodium reduction levels were developed based on label information. Nutrient amounts in the Nutrition Facts table are subject to rounding rules and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency's Nutrition Labelling Compliance Test.
Why do the 2016 benchmark levels have both a Maximum and Sales Weighted Average (SWA)?
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.
Setting the sodium reduction phases as SWAs and the 2016 sodium reduction levels as both SWAs and Maximum levels give companies the ability to plan their sodium reduction efforts according to which products are most easily reformulated or discontinued. This approach also allows companies the flexibility to consider how to get the most impact for achieving the benchmark SWA sodium content in each product category within their portfolio. Moreover, Maximum levels promote a downward shift of both the upper end of the sodium intake distribution curve, as well as the average sodium intake. It is hoped that this will shift salt taste preference among the broadest range of consumers and eventually increase consumer demand for low sodium products.
More information on SWA versus Maximum can be found in the Summary Report on Responses to the Consultation on Use of Sales Weighted Averages and/or Maximums.
How do I calculate the Sales Weighted Average (SWA)?
Health Canada has developed a SWA Calculator to help with this calculation.
The volume of sales (kg) for each n product within a one year period (X1, ...., Xn )
Multiplied by its sodium value in mg/100 g (Y1, ..., Yn)
Divided by the total volume of sales (kg) for the category.
SWA = [X1Y1+X2Y2+...+XnYn] / [X1 + X2 + ... +Xn]
How do you know that the average sodium intake of Canadians will be lowered to 2300 mg per day should the sodium in processed foods be reduced to the 2016 guiding benchmark sodium reduction levels?
Statisticians modelled the sodium reduction levels to estimate how much sodium will be consumed by Canadians if the sodium in processed foods was reduced to the 2016 guiding benchmark sodium reduction levels. Modelling is based on food intake records from the 2004 Canadian Community Health Survey 2.2 along with sodium levels obtained from food product labels collected between 2009 and 2010. Sodium reduction in processed foods alone is not expected to achieve the average intake goal of 2300 mg/day, so an awareness and education campaign is essential to help Canadians achieve that sodium intake level.
FPT governments are committed to helping create conditions that make the healthier choice the easier choice for consumers. It is expected that educating Canadians about sodium, the negative impact it has on health, and the importance of sodium reduction, along with additional research, will help consumers make more informed choices and further reduce the average sodium intake in Canada.
What is your definition of 'company'?
"Company" is intended to refer to a manufacturer as defined in A.01.010 of the FDR: "...a person, including an association or partnership, who under their own name, or under a trade, design or word mark, trade name or other name, word or mark controlled by them, sells a food or drug."
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