Revealed: rashers can have 50pc more salt than on label
Misleading food labels are understating the amount of salt by up to 50pc in popular products such as rashers.
A new investigation has revealed that health-conscious consumers who check nutrition labels before buying some bacon products are being given the wrong information.
Food scientists tested a sample of Irish bacon products, including rashers.
They found that one in four contained levels of salt which were up to 50pc higher than the recommended limit.
Yet all the nutrition labels on the packaging of these 36 products had information stating that their salt content was at or within the recommended limits as judged by food authorities.
Incorrect labelling has implications for people who need to keep their salt intake down due to high blood pressure, which can increase the risk of heart attacks and strokes.
Adults are advised not to eat more than 5g to 6g of salt a day, the equivalent of one teaspoon. Children's intake should be even lower.
The revelations are made in a new report led by the Food Research Centre of Teagasc, the agriculture and food development authority, and the School of Nutritional Sciences in University College Cork.
The Food Safety Authority recommends that bacon should not have more than 3.3pc salt per 100g, but this was breached in several of the products when put to the test.
It found that the salt levels ranged from 1.24pc to 4.71pc per 100g.
This means that someone who follows health advice and diligently checks the label before buying could be given the wrong information, depending on which product they choose.
When the scientists analysed 30 cooked-ham products, they found that half the samples had salt levels above the guideline of 1.6g per 100g.
The nutrition labels showed that as much as 25pc of some streaky rashers is made up of fat, while the fat proportion ranged from 8.5pc to 22.5pc of back rashers.
The scientists are part of a project to develop ways of making traditional processed meats attractive to the palate, while reducing their fat and salt content.
The research pointed out that one in five Irishmen and 7pc of women aged 18 to 64 currently suffer from high blood pressure.
The World Health Organisation recommends an intake of less than 5g of salt per day for adults. But the mean daily intake for Irish adults is now around 7.4g.
Processed foods account for more than two-thirds of our salt intake and processed meats are one of the main contributors to this.
The scientists how want to work on ways to provide the processed meat industry with ways to reduce salt and fat, while maintaining taste.
"Fat content has an important effect on flavour, texture, bite and mouthfeel. Salt also affects the sensory characteristics of the products, but it has an important additional role in their preservation," the researchers pointed out.
Therefore, low-fat or low-salt meat products present challenges to manufacturers.
"Traditional processed meats are an important part of Irish diets and due to their high consumption they represent a significant source of nutrients in our diets. Meat and meat products are the greatest contributors of protein and vitamin D intake in the Irish diet. They are also good sources of iron.
"The challenge facing meat scientists now is to provide the industry with the necessary knowledge to guide future manufacturing of healthier traditional meat products that can be consumed in moderation as part of a healthy diet and lifestyle."