The Cause of Illness that Left 200 Sick has Been Determined

For food industry leaders, a meeting worth its salt

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Nov. 5, 2008

by Nicole Miller

It's no secret that Americans eat too much salt, a habit linked to numerous health problems. At first glance, the solution seems simple: stop eating so much of the stuff.


But, as it turns out, salt-a.k.a. sodium chloride-can't easily be cut from the American diet. It is a key preservative, one that has been used for thousands of years to combat the growth of pathogenic microbes in foods. Now as much as ever, we rely on it to keep our processed, ready-to-eat meals safe.

Despite the challenges, food companies are interested in finding alternatives to salt that won't compromise food safety. For these industry leaders, the University of Wisconsin-Madison's Food Research Institute (FRI) is convening a daylong conference on Nov. 6 titled "Sodium Reduction and Its Effect on Food Safety, Food Quality and Human Health," which will feature a balanced discussion on salt's role in health and food safety, and an update on alternatives.

Representatives from more than 20 food and ingredient companies are registered, including Kraft, Sara Lee, Johnsonville, Sargento, Schreiber, and Morton, as well as numerous professionals from the nutrition and health care fields.

"This is a chance to educate product developers about alternatives to sodium chloride. It's also an opportunity to let nutritionists know where (the food industry's) hands are tied," says Kathy Glass, associate director of the Food Research Institute.

Glass, who helped organize the meeting, will present her research findings there. She assesses the ability of traditional food preservatives and spice extracts to replace some of the salt added to processed meat products. Currently, she is collaborating with scientists at the UW-Madison's Meat and Muscle Biology Laboratory to develop and test meat products incorporating these alternative preservatives.

The conference will feature other UW-Madison experts, including Mark Johnson, a food science professor; Chuck Kaspar, a bacteriology professor and FRI investigator; Karen Kritsch, a clinical nutritionist at the UW Hospital and Clinics; Andy Milkowski, an adjunct professor in the animal science department; and Gail Underbakke, a nutrition coordinator at the UW School of Medicine and Public Health.



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