FDA Issues Draft Guidance on Sodium Reduction with Voluntary Targets

Saying “the time is now to engage in a national dialogue on the problem of excess sodium,” the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a draft guidance with voluntary sodium reduction targets for the food industry. According to FDA supplemental material, restaurant food was included because Americans eat about one-third of their food calories and spend about half of their food dollars outside the home.

“The restaurant industry is taking a proactive role in helping Americans live healthier lives by offering a growing number of menu options and choices for customers,” said Joan McGlockton, Vice President, Food Policy and Industry Affairs, National Restaurant Association (NRA) stated in a response to the FDA announcement. “As part of that commitment, restaurants across our industry have been actively engaged for some time in voluntary efforts to provide consumers with lower-sodium options.

“It’s important to note that as restaurants continue to develop lower-sodium items, these efforts are challenged by consumer preference, limited technology, and acceptable lower-sodium options that take into account taste, quality and safety. In addition, availability and feasibility depends on many factors, such as consumer expectations, the type of food, the product’s taste profile, and the restaurant’s format. 

“The National Restaurant Association is committed to providing consumers with nutrition information. We joined forces with more than 70 public health and stakeholder groups to advocate for a national uniform nutrition-disclosure standard so that anyone dining out can have clear, easy-to-use nutrition information at the point of ordering. Through this new federal menu-labeling standard, restaurant guests will have access to sodium and other nutrition information to help inform their choices.

The NRA is reviewing the draft guidance to assess next steps for its membership.

Average sodium intake in the United States is approximately 3,400 milligrams (mg) per day, according to the FDA The draft short-term (two-year) and long-term (10-year) voluntary targets for industry are intended to help Americans gradually reduce sodium intake to 2,300 mg per day. The targets are also intended to complement many existing efforts by food manufacturers, restaurants, and food service operations to reduce sodium in foods.

Americans consume almost 50 percent more sodium than what most experts recommend. In some studies, researchers have estimated lowering U.S. sodium intake by about 40 percent over the next decade could save 500,000 lives and nearly $100 billion in healthcare costs.

“We believe that the time is now to engage in a national dialogue on the problem of excess sodium,” said Susan Mayne, Ph.D., director of the FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition. Publishing these targets is an important step in that dialogue.”

The comment period on this draft guidance opens June 2. For additional information, go to fda.gov.