Health advocacy groups, top food brands, urge Health Canada to permit term 'potassium salt' on food labels

By Elaine Watson

- Last updated on GMT

Health advocacy groups, top food brands, urge Health Canada to permit term 'potassium salt' on food labels

Related tags Sodium reduction Salt reduction Potassium chloride

Leading executives at Heart & Stroke, Hypertension Canada, Diabetes Canada, and Dietitians of Canada have joined a growing number of food manufacturers and retailers urging Health Canada and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) to allow ‘potassium salt’ as a permitted synonym for the popular salt replacer potassium chloride on food labels.

In a letter urging regulators to add potassium salt to the Permitted Synonyms for Food Additives Table​ in order to facilitate sodium reduction in Canada, the nonprofits argue that a friendlier name would demystify the ingredient and help the industry achieve the dual goals of lowering sodium and increasing potassium intakes.

Consumers are looking for clean labels and becoming increasingly suspicious of ‘chemical-sounding’ ingredients, says the letter: Health Canada’s current ingredient labelling policies requirethat potassium salt be labelled as ‘potassium chloride’ on food labels. This requirement isinconsistent with growing consumer demands for clean label food ingredients and it couldinhibit consumer acceptance of this salt substitute.”

‘Some consumers regard potassium chloride as an ingredient to be avoided, mistakenly believing it to be an undesirable chemical substance such as chlorine’

Consumer research shared with Health Canada in November 2018 showed that consumers have concerns regarding the term ‘chloride,’ said leading food manufacturers in a letter penned to Health Canada earlier this year.

“Some consumers regard potassium chloride as an ingredient to be avoided, mistakenly believing it to be an undesirable chemical substance (i.e. chlorine) rather than an essential mineral / nutrient.  Many food companies are therefore hesitant to employ potassium salt substitution within recipes when such use must be declared as ‘potassium chloride.’”

The CFIA has previously established precedents for synonyms for a variety of ingredients and food additives, permitting ‘baking soda’ for sodium bicarbonate, ‘lye’ for sodium hydroxide, and ‘Graham’s Salt’ for Sodium Hexametaphosphate, for example, noted the food companies.

“It is somewhat ironic when one considers that sodium chloride may be declared on the label merely as ‘salt’ and not as ‘sodium chloride.’”

NuTek: Food and health organizations in US and Canada are aligned on this issue

NuTek Food Science​​​​​ - which has patented a process that suppresses potassium chloride's metallic taste without requiring companies to add expensive flavor masking ingredients – filed a citizen’s petition​ with the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 2016 urging the agency to permit the term 'potassium salt' on US food labels.

“Although we continue to wait on FDA action regarding our potassium salt petition, stakeholders in Canada have aligned to address the same issue with Health Canada,” ​NuTek president and COO Brian Boor told FoodNavigator-USA.

“Both the Canadian health community and the Canadian food industry have amassed very broad-based and prominent public support for the potassium salt labeling option.  

“We are hopeful, based on outgoing FDA Commissioner Gottlieb’s comments about the near-term release of the two-year sodium guidelines, the FDA will also act on our petition in the nearer term. 

“We are cautiously optimistic that with the broad-based support this has in both Canada and the US, both Health Canada and FDA will elevate this and act in the nearer term.”

The FDA has yet to issue a formal response to NuTek's petition, although former FDA commissioner Dr Scott Gottlieb said in a March 2018 speech that it was on the agency's radar.

“The petitioner argued that some consumers associate the term ‘chloride’ with chlorine bleach and consequently avoid foods that have “potassium chloride” in the ingredient list. The petitioner urged FDA to consider how naming might encourage industry to replace some sodium chloride with potassium chloride, which could provide public health benefits… We’re actively considering this request.”​​

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