As the federal government continues to focus on ways to reduce sodium in the American diet, IDFA and its members remain engaged in a variety of activities to demonstrate that new regulations may not be necessary and, in some cases, may not be plausible when it comes to cheese. Just this week, senior IDFA staff members met with several Food and Drug Administration representatives to discuss the dairy industry's initial progress on lowering sodium in cheese and to outline the challenges that remain.
Seven FDA officials, including representatives from the Center for Food Safety and Nutrition's Office of Food Additive Safety, met Wednesday with IDFA Senior Group Vice President Clay Hough and IDFA Vice Presidents Cary Frye and Ruth Saunders. The broad-ranging agenda included discussions on recommendations to reduce sodium intake that were issued last April by an Institute of Medicine committee. (See "FDA Should Set Limits for Sodium, Report Says.")
The IOM committee recommended a regulatory and mandatory strategy of lowering the sodium levels in foods in steps to allow consumer tastes to adjust to lower levels of salt and sodium in products over time. In its report, the IOM committee also encouraged the food industry to continue voluntary efforts to reduce sodium in foods. At this week's meeting, IDFA said the dairy industry is doing just that by offering consumers new reduced-sodium options, including successful reformulations from Sargento, Sartori and others.
These IOM recommendations could be used by regulators or legislators as guidelines to develop new regulatory requirements on sodium.
Salt Serves Many Functions
In addition, IDFA explained that salt serves many functions in cheese and reformulations are complicated. Salt not only affects the flavor and texture of cheese, it also affects its performance characteristics, such as melting and moisture control, and too many changes could make the product unpalatable to consumers. Salt also plays an important food-safety role in the making of cheese.
IDFA highlighted current industry research, funded in part by Dairy Management Inc., that aims to determine best practices for sodium reduction in the cheesemaking process. The research is looking at food safety, new technologies, process controls and tools to optimize salt distribution in products.
In the meeting, FDA reinforced its interest in working with IDFA and other industry partners on this issue.
"We had a great exchange of information at the meeting and look forward to continuing a dialogue where we can provide information and research findings that the agency can use in its sodium-related work," said Frye.
IDFA also hopes to learn in the near future what activities the agency may be undertaking in relation to salt as a generally recognized as safe (GRAS) food additive.
For more information, contact Frye at email@example.com.
Also this week, the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy announced that more than 17 leading cheese companies, as well as representatives from IDFA, have been working as part of a Best Practices Task Force looking into the opportunities and challenges to reducing sodium content in cheese. The group is working specifically on ensuring food safety, educational outreach and process control. Read the news release here.