What the FDA Sodium-Reduction Plan Means for You

Agency targets the industry, 'not the salt shaker,' for overconsumption

WASHINGTON --  The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) earlier this week issued draft guidance for voluntary sodium-reduction targets for the food industry. Targeting both food manufacturers and foodservice operators, the guidance seeks to reduce American sodium consumption to 3,000 milligrams per day in two years, and 2,300 mg per day in 10 years.

Americans consume on average 3,400 mg of sodium per day, according to the FDA.

This week’s announcement was released to solicit feedback from food manufacturers, foodservice operators and consumers. The agency emphasized that the targets are meant to be voluntary, and it acknowledged efforts already underway by many leading restaurant chains and suppliers, stating that its targets are meant to complement those existing efforts.

The agency has set separate comment periods for the targets: 90 days for the short-term targets and 150 days for the long-term targets. It’s specifically looking for comment on the 150 food categories it has identified in its plan, the methods for quantifying sodium content and developing the targets, and what challenges might be faced upon implementing these goals.

Why focus on the food industry? “While a majority of Americans reports watching or trying to reduce added salt in their diets, the deck has been stacked against them,” reads a press released issued by the FDA. “The majority of sodium intake comes from processed and prepared foods, not the salt shaker.”

This effort falls squarely on the food industry, which accounts for 70% of sodium consumption, according to the FDA. It is “especially encouraging adoption by food manufacturers whose products make up a significant portion of national sales in one or more categories and restaurant chains that are national and regional in scope.”

It also recognizes the time it will take to reformulate products—hence the 10-year time frame to get down to 2,300 mg per day.

Federal officials could not estimate how long it might take for the rules to be finalized, or even if they might be completed by the end of the Obama administration, reports The Wall Street Journal.

The FDA isn’t the only government body attempting to regulate sodium intake. The announcement came just days after a court cleared the way for New York City to begin enforcing fines for local chain restaurants failing to identify high-sodium items (items with more than 2,300 mg of sodium) on menus with a warning icon. It’s the nation's first salt-warning requirement to hit operators. 

An appellate court had blocked the enforcement in February after a legal challenge was filed by the National Restaurant Association. Enforcement is set to begin on June 6.  

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