Background: In June 2016, the Republic of South Africa introduced legislation for mandatory limits for the upper sodium content permitted in a wide range of processed foods. We assessed the sodium levels of packaged foods in South Africa during the one-year period leading up to the mandatory implementation date of the legislation.
Methods: Data on the nutritional composition of packaged foods was obtained from nutrition information panels on food labels through both in-store surveys and crowdsourcing by users of the HealthyFood Switch mobile phone app between June 2015 and August 2016. Summary sodium levels were calculated for 15 food categories, including the 13 categories covered by the sodium legislation. The percentage of foods that met the government's 2016 sodium limits was also calculated.
Results: 11,065 processed food items were included in the analyses, 1851 of these were subject to the sodium legislation. Overall, 67% of targeted foods had a sodium level at or below the legislated limit. Categories with the lowest percentage of foods that met legislated limits were bread (27%), potato crisps (41%), salt and vinegar flavoured snacks (42%), and raw processed sausages (45%). About half (49%) of targeted foods not meeting the legislated limits were less than 25% above the maximum sodium level.
Conclusion: Sodium levels in two-thirds of foods covered by the South African sodium legislation were at or below the permitted upper levels at the mandatory implementation date of the legislation and many more were close to the limit. The South African food industry has an excellent opportunity to rapidly meet the legislated requirements.