By Max Clarke

Processed food purveyors and manufacturers are recruiting top scientists in a bid to reduce salt levels in ready meals, the British Retail Consortium has said.

Currently, the Government's Public Health Responsibility Deal, launched in England in March, is aiming to reduce levels of the potentially harmful flavour enhancer and food preserver by 15% by the end of 2012, compared with 2010. In some cases this will only be possible if new techniques are found to help preserve and flavour food.

"Our members have made fantastic progress reducing the levels of salt in food in recent years," says British Retail Consortium Deputy Food Director, Andrea Martinez-Inchausti.

"In some cases we've come as far as we can without help from science. The fact retailers are choosing to spend their own money looking for new solutions shows how seriously they take their commitment to public health.

Retailers and manufacturers in the UK are leading the rest of the world in reducing salt levels in food, and many met the previous target on salt reduction a year early. Salt is present in food for many reasons as well as flavour, including structural and food safety roles. It is hoped that the project which is now out to tender will identify new ways to reduce salt levels.

"If salt is reduced further there's a danger that products will no longer taste the way customers want them to," continued Martinez-Inchausti. "It's pointless to put this much effort into reducing salt as an ingredient if consumers simply add a large amount themselves. We also need to find ways of preserving food effectively so it doesn't go to waste."

Terry Jones, Food and Drink Federation Communications Director, also commented: "Food manufacturers have already gone to great lengths to reduce the salt content of many of the UK's much-loved brands while keeping the great taste that consumers demand. Nevertheless with the challenging 2012 targets on the horizon, we are funding this work on behalf of our members to identify and assess technical solutions to further reduce salt in key categories."

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