Restaurant Report 2015 - Assessing the catering sector’s commitment to salt reduction

Full report can be found here

Executive Summary
We are all eating too much salt, increasing our risk of suffering from heart attacks and stroke. The maximum recommended salt target is 6g of salt per adult per day, and even less for children, but most people in the UK exceed this with average intakes currently around 8.1g per day for adults. Average salt intakes in children also exceeded the SACN recommendations for each age group except for young girls aged 7 to 10 years. It is widely accepted that reducing ones salt intake can lower blood pressure, a major risk factor of cardiovascular disease. The Department of Health estimates that reducing salt intakes by just 1g - a pinch of salt - would avoid 4,147 premature deaths and save the NHS £288 million every year. 

Food consumed out of home makes a significant contribution to our daily diets, with an estimated 1 in 6 meals being eaten out. It is also often saltier than similar foods sold at retail. Whilst you have complete control in how much salt you add to freshly prepared meals, it is harder to eat less salt when eating food prepared by other people. Therefore, chefs and the catering sector have a huge role to play in helping consumer’s to reduce their salt intake so as to meet the 6g a day population target. We aim to raise awareness among chefs and catering staff of the importance for health of reducing the salt in foods, and promote behaviour changes through kitchen practices and ingredient selection.

In 2013 we carried out a report looking at the commitment made by some popular celebrity chef, restaurant and fast food chains in the country. Following on from the latest set of salt targets announced by the Department of Health in 2014, and to tie in with the focus for Salt Awareness Week 2015, this report will look at progress made by some members of the out of home sector, paying particular attention to the salt content found in children’s meals.


Our Assessment
Action taken by the catering sector is the key to reducing salt in food eaten out of the home. In our research we looked at 23 well known restaurant chain and quick service restaurants all children’s meals, to assess the steps they have taken to reduce salt. Each business was measured against 3 key categories:
1. Commitment to action
2. Helping consumers make healthy choices
3. Salt content of their children’s meals

Our report highlights that although some good examples exist, on the whole consumers are being let down by the inconsistent approach to reducing salt, with some companies making progress in one or two areas, but less in others. There are no ‘gold standard’ companies, with progress needed across the board. In comparison to previous reports, companies appear to be doing much better in their children’s dishes, with nearly two thirds of those surveyed already meeting the Department of Health’s maximum per serve target for children (1.8g/serving). Nevertheless children are eating far too much salt and therefore every effort should be made to reduce salt levels even further.

Among the restaurant chains, JD Wetherspoons stood out for demonstrating strong will, committing to the Food Standards Agency and signing up to the Department of Health’s 2017 Salt Reduction Pledge and the second Salt Catering Pledge (Reformulation), however over a third of their meals were still considered high in salt and further commitment to the latest out of home maximum per serve targets was lacking. Other restaurants are indeed showing commitment to salt reduction, including Harvester, Jamie’s Italian, Beefeater and Pizza Express. In contrast, there are many restaurants that have yet to make any commitment to salt reduction, including Giraffe, Leon, TGI Friday, Wagamama & Zizzi.


Recommendations
Consensus Action on Salt and Health recommends the following list of actions for the out of home catering sector:

  • Commit to the Responsibility Deal Salt Reduction and Salt Catering Pledges
  • Privde nutritional labelling online and in-store
  • Remove salt shakers from tables
  • Provide low salt soy sauce at the table instead of standard soy sauce

More than half of people find restaurant meals too salty, and that two thirds think chefs should add less salt when they cook the meal. Our assessment looked at the children’s meals, but it is very important that action is taken across the entire menu in all restaurants, including the many smaller restaurants and takeaway outlets. Overall, the pace of salt reduction needs to be increased dramatically, and further pressure exerted from the Department of Health; failing that, legislation must be enforced.


Produced with the kind support of the British Heart Foundation