Wolfson Institute of Preventive Medicine - Barts and The London

Food industry fails to meet salt reduction targets in bacon

New survey findings by Action on Salt, based at the Wolfson Institute of Preventive Medicine, Queen Mary University of London, have revealed astonishing and varying levels of salt in bacon, whilst at the same time exposing the dismal lack of progress made by the food industry in meeting voluntary salt reduction targets. Bacon is the second biggest contributor to salt in the UK diet, and salt is the leading cause of raised blood pressure, which is the major cause of strokes and heart disease.

9 January 2020

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Of 171 bacon products from ten main UK supermarket chains, 86% have a salt concentration equal to or greater than seawater. The saltiest bacon offender was Tesco Finest Unsmoked 8 Wiltshire Cure Back Bacon Medallions with a staggering 5.3g/100g, more than twice the concentration of seawater, and the equivalent salt content of 1 Burger King Hamburger in just one rasherThe least salty bacon overall was The Co-operative 8 Reduced Fat Unsmoked Bacon Medallions with just 1.45g/100g of salt – four times less salt compared with the saltiest bacon offender. This difference importantly shows that bacon can easily be made with far less salt.

All except one of the products surveyed should carry a red traffic light label for salt on front of pack. Astonishingly, products labelled with ‘reduced salt’ were not necessarily the lowest in salt, as some still contained more salt than those which did not display a specific nutrition claim to salt. To add further confusion, there is no consistency on declaration of nutrition information with some companies providing nutritional information for bacon as raw, whilst others declare information as cooked.

Compared with salt levels in bacon observed in the 2012 Action on Salt survey, nearly two thirds of the 33 directly comparable bacon products have either stayed as salty or become more salty in the latest survey. The bacon with the biggest reduction was Co-op’s Outdoor Bred British Smoked Rindless Back Bacon, which was 3.8g/100g in 2012 and is now 2.78g/100g. Overall, Marks & Spencer seemed to have made the least amount of progress, increasing their salt content on average by 0.27g. Notably, their Dry Cured Smoked Back Bacon appears to have increased by almost a third (30%), from 2.55g/100g in 2012 to 3.33g/100g in 2019.

Action on Salt are urging the newly formed government to reignite a comprehensive salt reduction programme, with mandatory targets for salt levels in products that all companies would be expected to meet and strict penalties/levies for those who fail to comply.