After long-awaited guidelines were issued by U.S. regulators, food companies now face renewed pressure to reduce salt levels. These guidelines are aimed at reducing sodium in dozens foods, including condiments and cereals, as well as potato chips, french fries, and other snacks.

The voluntary goals for 163 foods that were set Wednesday are designed to reduce salt intake. The majority of sodium in American diets is found in packaged or restaurant food. This makes it difficult for people to make healthy changes.

The Food and Drug Administration stated that people need to eat less salt to get used to it.

Susan Mayne, Director of FDA’s Food Safety and Nutrition Division, stated, “By setting targets, it really helps to level out the playing field across industry.”

The FDA will reduce the average sodium intake by 12% over the next 2.5-years. Its target sodium levels are 3,400 to 3,000 mgs per day. This would still mean that the average intake of sodium per day would be higher than the 2,300 mg daily limit for people aged 14 and older. The agency promises to monitor industry progress and continue to issue updated targets to increase intake to meet the recommended limit.

After issuing its 2016 draft guidance, the FDA stated that it had taken into account industry feedback. For example, hot sauce, mustard, and ketchup were all split up, and now have different targets. Another difference is that the final guidance doesn’t give a timeframe for reaching long-term targets.

“It’s a big disappointment that the 10-year target didn’t come out at a similar time,” stated Dr. Dariush Mozafararian, dean of Tufts University Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy.

Mozaffarian stated that some food companies refused to reduce sodium targets. However, there is more scientific support for federal sodium guidance. The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine attributed the recommended limit to a lower risk of chronic diseases in 2019. Recent Chinese research also showed that salt substitute users had lower stroke rates and more major heart-related events than those who used regular salt.

Mozaffarian stated that whether the FDA’s targets are successful in pushing the industry towards lower sodium levels will depend on how it monitors progress and communicates about it publicly.

The National Restaurant Association stated that it gave feedback to FDA’s draft guidance, and that its member businesses continue to offer options to address customer demand.

According to the American Frozen Food Institute, member companies offer lower sodium options in order to satisfy consumer demand.

Although the guidance is voluntary companies may feel pressured to make changes in order to avoid more regulatory action. Dr. Peter Lurie, president and CEO of the Center for Science in the Public Interest has called for mandatory sodium standards.

He stated, “If the impact is not as we would like, I think it’s back on the drawing board and mandatory cuts will be on the table.”