COLUMBUS, Ohio — Any processed meat professional worth his or her salt knows that sodium is an issue in the industry.
Lynn Knipe will address that concern at the Process Expo in Chicago this week where more than 20,000 are expected to attend.
Knipe is an associate professor of food and animal sciences in The Ohio State University’s College of Food, Agricultural and Environmental Sciences. He is also a meat specialist with Ohio State University Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. OSU Extension and OARDC are the outreach and research arms of the college, respectively.
“Reducing Sodium in Meat Products” is one of four presentations Knipe will offer during the Sept. 15-18 event, which is sponsored by the Food Processing Suppliers Association.
Despite persistent evidence that reducing consumption of sodium could save lives — according to some studies, potentially more than a million in the U.S. over a decade — Americans still consume an average of more than 3,400 milligrams a day. That’s compared with a recommended level from the Institute of Medicine of no more than 2,300 milligrams a day and is more than double the recommendation of 1,500 milligrams by the American Heart Association.
One of the reasons for the disconnect, public health officials say, is because much of the sodium in the American diet comes not from the salt shaker but from processed foods. And one of the reasons for that, Knipe said, is that people tend to like the flavor of salt.
“But we can reduce the sodium in processed meats,” Knipe said.
In his presentation, Knipe will review sodium-reduction strategies, including some traditional practices that many processors have long abandoned. But every option carries pros and cons, he said. Issues that processors need to consider include:
- How reducing sodium will affect a product’s flavor and other qualities, including texture, shelf life and water-holding capacity. Salt binds proteins together, Knipe said, and does other jobs in processed meat besides providing flavor. Processors who reduce salt in their products will need to make other changes to retain a high-quality product.
- How changes in the processing will affect the bottom line. For example, one well-established technique for reducing sodium in sausage products is to pre-blend the salt and meat and let it sit overnight before further processing. “It gives the salt time to interact with the meat, and you don’t need to use as much salt that way,” Knipe said. But this also extends the production time, “and time is money.”
- How consumers will react to the product itself and to new information on the label. Many consumers reject a product with a “low-sodium” label, believing the product will lack flavor. On the other hand, many consumers look for what Knipe calls a “clean label,” favoring products that list natural-sounding ingredients. If salt in a product is replaced with potassium chloride, for example, “to me, that’s just one more chemical we’re adding to these products,” Knipe said. “There are other options.”
Despite the complexities, the industry’s interest in the issue is strong, Knipe said.
“There’s a lot of talk that we need to be gradually reducing sodium in our products,” Knipe said. “I have talked with several large companies that are already doing this, and they’re examining how it affects shelf-life and quality. The idea is that if sodium is reduced gradually, consumers will adjust — their palate will adapt. But that won’t work if only one or two companies reduce the sodium in their products. Everyone needs to do it.”
Knipe’s talks will be held during Process Expo University, the educational portion of the trade show. In addition to the session on sodium, Knipe will also discuss Processing Interventions to Inhibit Listeria in RTE (Ready-to-Eat) Meat Products, Process Control for the Meat Industry, and Tracking and Trending HACCP (Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points) Data.
Also at the Expo, two other college faculty members will help lead a panel presentation on Novel Processing Technologies for Enhancing Food Safety. Bala Balasubramaniam, professor of food science and technology, and Sudhir Sastry, professor of food, agricultural and biological engineering, will join four others in discussing minimally processed products and implications for food safety at the session on Sept. 17.