New research reveals high and unnecessary levels of salt in bacon

13th September 2012

• Bacon is now the 2nd biggest contributor of salt to the UK diet, after bread
• Just 2 rashers of bacon can contain MORE THAN HALF the daily maximum recommendation of salt [6g]
• Some bacon contain THREE TIMES more salt than others from the SAME supermarket
• CASH calls for immediate action as the food industry and the Department of Health are failing British public in these difficult times

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As the recession continues, consumers are turning to cheaper foods such as bacon to feed their families [Ref 1]. However, new research [Ref 2] from Consensus Action on Salt and Health (CASH) reveals huge and unnecessarily  high amounts of salt in bacon, with some products containing MORE THAN HALF the daily recommendation of salt [6g] in just 2 rashers of bacon - more than double the concentration of seawater per 100g [Ref 3].

High examples per 2 rashers, by bacon type:
• Back bacon: Tesco 6 Smoked Back Rashers Thick Cut - 3.8g/2 grilled rashers
• Streaky Bacon: Morrisons Saver Streaky bacon – 3g/ 2 grilled rashers
• Middle Bacon: Tesco Everyday Value Un-smoked Rind-On Middle Bacon Rashers – 5.3g/2 grilled rashers

Large variations were found in the saltiness of bacon, even within the same supermarket.  Morrison’s for instance sells one smoked back bacon product [Morrison’s Savers Smoked Rindless Back Bacon] which contains  THREE TIMES more salt than another Morrison’s smoked back bacon product [Morrisons The Best Applewood Smoked Dry Cured Back Bacon] (6.8g/100g vs. 2g/100g). At Sainsbury’s you can purchase a reduced salt bacon  [Sainsbury’s Reduced salt Danish back bacon rashers smoked] containing almost half the amount of salt (2.95g/100g) than their Taste The Difference Unsmoked Wiltshire cured outdoor bred bacon rashers (5.58g/100g). Even the lower salt version is still saltier than the sea [Ref 3] so try to limit your intake as part of a healthy, balanced diet.  

Through the Responsibility Deal, the Department of Health is meant to be working with manufacturers to reduce salt levels in food.  However self reported updates from the industry have indicated that only 2 out of the 7 major supermarkets - Tesco and Marks & Spencer - are on track to meet the 2012 bacon target by the end of the year (bacon target: 2.88g salt per 100g) [Ref 4]. If two responsible supermarkets have been able to meet the targets,   and making bacon with less salt is clearly achievable, why haven’t reductions been made in all bacon products across the board?

“For every one gram reduction in salt intake we can prevent 12,000 heart attacks, strokes and heart failure, half of which would have been fatal” says Graham MacGregor, CASH Chairman and Professor of Cardiovascular  Medicine at the Wolfson Institute, Barts & The London. “As bacon is now such a big contributor of salt to our diet it is vital that the Department of Health ensures that manufacturers reduce the salt in these incredibly salty bacon products immediately.”

While products such as bacon remain very high in salt there is a real need for clear and consistent front of pack labelling to allow customers to make informed choices when shopping. CASH however found massive inconsistencies in the information given on pack/at point of purchase, making it incredibly hard for customers to compare products [Ref 5].  Some companies opted for traffic light labelling, others for Guideline Daily Amounts and some for   nothing at all. Portion sizes were provided as either one rasher or two, both Marks & Spencer and ASDA failed to provide any portion information. If the Department of Health intends to tell people to choose lower salt foods, they must ensure there is a single uniform labelling system across all manufacturers, otherwise it is completely unrealistic that people should be expected to make a healthy choice.

There was also no pattern to the variation in salt content of different types of bacon, further emphasising the importance of clear and uniform labelling. For instance, smoked bacon did not consistently come out any higher in  salt  compared to unsmoked despite common perceptions. CASH also found that, despite a nearly 7 fold difference in the price of bacon (Range: £2.22 - £0.32) per 100g); there was no notable difference in the salt content of economy versus standard or premium products.

Hannah Brinsden, CASH Nutritionist says “In times of austerity we have a lot on our minds already, without the extra worry that our budget meal choices contain too much salt. It is down to manufacturers to ensure that the salt in  bacon is reduced and to provide us with a consistent labelling system so we are able to us to choose lower salt products and protect our health.”

Victoria Taylor, Senior Dietitian at the British Heart Foundation (BHF), said: "We can all do our bit to make our cooked breakfasts healthier by grilling rather than frying, including more fruit and reducing portion sizes.But while you can avoid adding more salt yourself, you can't take out what has already been added by manufacturers. We need the food industry to help shoppers through consistent reformulation programmes as well as clear, front of  pack food labels using traffic light colours.Too much salt in our diet is linked to high blood pressure, a major risk factor for heart disease, and everyone has a part to play in reducing the amount of salt we're eting as a nation."

High and low examples per supermarket:

SupermarketHigh exampleSalt/ 100g   (£/100g)Low exampleSalt/ 100g   (£/100g)Difference  (g/100g)
ASDAOrganics 6 Dry cured oak smoked back bacon rashers4.8g (£1.66 )Smartprice Unsmoked streaky bacon3g (£0.35 )1.8
Sainsbury’sTaste The Difference Unsmoked 8 wiltshire cured outdoor bred bacon rashers5.58g (£1.25 )Sainsbury’s 10 Reduced salt Danish back bacon rashers smoked2.95g (£0.79)2.61
TescoFinest Unsmoked/Oak smoked 16 British dry cure streaky bacon rashers3.5g (£1.18 )Tesco 10 unsmoked/smoked medallions (reduced fat, reduced salt)2.0g (£0.99)1.5
MorrisonsSavers Smoked Rindless Back Bacon6.8g (£0.32)The Best 6 Applewood Smoked drycure Rindless Back Bacon2g ( not available)4.8
WaitroseAll Waitrose essential bacon3.15g        (£0.91-£1.20 )Waitrose 6 Rashers of full flavoured sweet cured smoked back bacon matured with maple syrup1.9g (£1.28)1.25
M & SM & S  British outdoor bred dry cured smoked streaky bacon 16 rashers3.55g (£1.55 )M&S British lower salt unsmoked back bacon 8 rasher2.10g (£0.96)1.05
The Co-operativeThe Co-operative British smoked rindless back bacon3.8g (£1.06 )Truly Irresistible British dry cured oak smoked rindless back bacon2.4g (£1.65)1.4

 

Industry responses

Morrisons have reported that they will be launching lower salt bacon products in the new year

 

References
Ref 1
– Kantar data released by the Department of Health shows bacon to be the second largest single contributor of salt to the UK diet
https://www.wp.dh.gov.uk/responsibilitydeal/files/2012/07/Salt-next-steps.pdf
http://responsibilitydeal.dh.gov.uk/2012/07/20/hlsg-3-july-2012-meeting/

Additionally - NDNS Data – contribution of salt to UK diet. Shows Bacon and Ham: 7% of adult’s 19-64 sodium intake (Bread: 18%) http://www.dh.gov.uk/en/Publicationsandstatistics/Publications/PublicationsStatistics/DH_128166


Ref 2 - Survey details.  The survey looked at bacon available from the 7 leading retailers – ASDA, Sainsbury’s, Tesco, Morrisons, Marks & Spencer, Waitrose and The Co-operative.  Iceland would not allow us photographic access.
• In total 130 products were included in the survey, including streaky, middle and back bacon, smoked and unsmoked, premium, economy and standard ranges.
• Data was collected in store during August 2012. Information was checked on company websites. Salt/sodium/100g/portion information/pack weight/portion weight was captured using a digital camera
• Information has been uploaded into an International database, lead by the George Institute in Australia

Ref 3 – Seawater has a salt concentration of 2.5g/100g


Ref 4 – The Responsibility Deal was launched in March 2011 and annual updates were published in July 2012. Full details of the partners, the targets and reported progress can be found on the Department of Health website http://responsibilitydeal.dh.gov.uk/2012/02/03/f2-factsheet/


Ref 5 – Labelling
Labelling.  This survey found a wide variation of nutrition labelling types used, including GDA’s, traffic lights, per portion, per 100g, sodium and salt. A number of companies provided no portion information and/or no front of pack labelling at point of purchase on the external packaging.
There was also variation in the way information was calculated by the manufacturers, some gave the information as ‘raw’ (brands, M&S, Waitrose, The Co-operative) while others provided the information as ‘ grilled’ (ASDA, Sainsbury’s Morrisons). Tesco provided 100g data as ‘raw’ and portion data as ‘grilled’. This means that data could only be fairly compared within and not between supermarkets.
As targets are based on an ‘as sold’ basis, and people cook and use bacon in different ways (e.g. grilled, fried, as part of dish), CASH believes that nutrition information should be given on an ‘as sold’ basis for fair comparison.