Big Apple Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg is enlisting the food industry in his National Salt Reduction Initiative one company at a time.

Both restaurants and packaged food companies are signing up for the challenge of reducing sodium in their products by 20 percent over the next five years.

salt-reduction-featured.jpgThe National Salt Reduction Initiative (NSRI), a public-private partnership, was formed to combat America’s over-consumption of salt because the sodium it contains contributes to high blood pressure that in turn causes heart attacks and strokes.

When rolled out in January, the New York City-led initiative was heavy on government and health organizations, but light on private sector food companies who will be called upon to actually pull off the feat of cutting salt without ruining taste.

Mayor Bloomberg this week announced a fairly impressive list of restaurants and food companies who are joining the partnership.  

The first restaurants to sign up include: Au Bon Pain, McCain Foods, Starbucks Coffee Company, Subway, and Uno Chicago Grill.  The NSRI has targets for reducing salt in 25 categories of restaurant foods with voluntary two and four year targets.  It also sets a maximum salt level for all items a restaurant serves.

The first packaged food companies to enlist are: Boar’s Head Provisions Co., Fresh Direct, Goya Foods, Hain Celestial, Heinz, Kraft Foods, LiDestri Foods Inc., Mars Food US, McCain Foods, Red Gold Inc., Unilever, and White Rose.  In packaged foods, NSRI has 62 food categories.

“We applaud New York City for bringing greater focus to the need for sodium reduction in American diets,” said Rhonda Jordan, president of Health & Wellness for Kraft Foods. “We believe that this public and transparent voluntary program can truly benefit both the food industry and consumers.  We fully support the intent of the National Salt Reduction Initiative because we share the goal of reduced sodium, and have been working to lower sodium in our products for several years.”

The enlisted companies have together agreed to work on reducing salt in 49 categories of packaged foods and 15 categories of restaurant dishes.

“Reducing salt intake has been a public health priority for decades,” said Dr. Thomas Farley, New York’s health commissioner.” We can now say we are taking the first steps to achieve it.”

Mike Wilson, research and development vice president at Mars Food US, said reducing salt is part of his company’s long-term strategy.  Lanette Kovachi, company dietitian, said Subway is committed to reducing salt in its restaurants around the globe.

While New York City led, the NSRI consists of numerous city, state, and national health organizations.

The recommended dairy limit for sodium intake is 1,500 mg for most adults and 2,300 mg for others.  Most Americans consume two or three times that much, with only 11 percent coming from saltshakers.  The rest comes from packaged foods and restaurant meals.