The British Hospitality Association (BHA) and the UK's four largest contract caterers are urging the Government to take a more active role in controlling the amount of salt in people's diets.
In a meeting with public health minister Melanie Johnson, the BHA and representatives from Compass, Sodexho, Avenance and Aramark urged the Government to take an exemplary role by enforcing maximum salt levels in Government-run catering contracts.
"The industry as a whole has to recognise that reducing salt does matter and is a good thing for all of us," said BHA chief executive Bob Cotton. "And contract caterers must take a leading role because they feed a semi-captive audience in schools, hospitals and prisons."
He added: "But the Government has also got to take a lead, because it controls the contracts in these places. It is a matter of stipulating salt content as a part of the contract."
Catering contracts for the Ministry of Defence make no reference to the nutritional content of food served, according to Cotton. "If [the Government] controls the contracts, they need to practise what they preach," he said.
Raffaella Piovesan, company dietitian for Avenance, said: "We [contract caterers] feed a significant proportion of the UK population, particularly in schools. We have a shared responsibility with the Government, the individual, parents and food manu- facturers to reduce the amount of salt consumed.
"As well as looking at how much salt we add to our food, we as caterers also recognise that we play an educational role in encouraging consumers to taste the food before adding supplementary salt."
In a letter to the industry last month, Johnson said that she wanted to see reductions in all products that contribute significantly to salt intake, with a planned programme of steps to achieve them over the next two or three years.
The BHA and the British Beer & Pub Association have produced a six-page leaflet on the use of salt by caterers, urging them to reduce it as part of a Government-backed initiative.
The leaflet advises that 0.5g of sodium or more per 100g constitutes "a lot" while 0.1g of sodium per 100g is "a little".
Source: Caterer & Hotelkeeper magazine, 12 August 2004