Salt Iodization in Processed Foods May Counter Iodine Deficiency in Over 2 Billion People

March 15, 2012

CHICAGO—Over 2 billion people may be at risk for iodine deficiency disorders (IDD), including mental impairment, hyperthyroidism, stillbirth, miscarriage and increased infant mortality. According to the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), universal salt iodization is a safe, cost-effective and sustainable strategy to ensure sufficient iodine intake by all individuals. New research from the Institute of Food Technologists (IFT) assessing the use of iodized salt in processed foods shows that the food industry is willing to use iodized salt, although numerous barriers exist around the world.

The Institute of Food Technologists, under contract with the Micronutrient Initiative (MI), assessed the use of iodized salt in processed foods in 39 countries (see Table). MI is a nonprofit organization dedicated to ensuring that individuals (primarily women and children) in developing countries get the vitamins and minerals they need to survive and thrive. The project aimed to determine if iodized salt was used in processed foods, whether or not there are policies in place to influence dietary salt reduction and how these efforts are implemented, as well as iodine nutrition knowledge among food processors in a variety of countries.

Recent trends, particularly in industrialized countries, show that individuals are consuming the majority of their salt through processed foods, in which iodized salt is not generally used, rather than through table salt. Additionally, recent initiatives to encourage reduced sodium consumption have prompted many consumers to reduce their intake of iodized table salt. While these trends in sodium consumption are more frequently observed in industrialized countries, they are expanding into many developing countries where iodine deficiency is a concern. Thus, countries that focus on iodization of table salt alone may not achieve optimal iodine nutrition of their population.  

IFT found that some countries with the heaviest burden for IDD, such as China, may also have many processed foods available while another country with IDD does not appear to have even minimally processed foods readily available. However, the majority of the European countries and Latin American countries identified for the project do have processed foods readily available, although not all of the foods are prepared with iodized salt.

Some of the developing countries have enacted legislation requiring iodization of all salt to combat high rates of IDD. However, they often lack the regulatory infrastructure to monitor and enforce it. Additional challenges to using iodized salt in food products include poor stability of iodine in salt and food products, lack of resources and technical capability, potential equipment and process overhauls, and a higher cost for iodized salt (which may need to be passed on to consumers).

Approaches to increasing voluntary use of iodized salt by food companies include outreach and education to the nutrition departments of companies. Additionally, a consumer education campaign on the use of iodized salt in food processing to address IDD could provide incentives for companies to meet consumer demand.

Read the full report in Comprehensive Reviews in Food Science and Food Safety.
Read the full article in Food Technology magazine.

Iodine Countries Table

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About IFT
The Institute of Food Technologists (IFT) is a nonprofit scientific society. Our individual members are professionals engaged in food science, food technology, and related professions in industry, academia, and government. IFT's mission is to advance the science of food, and our long-range vision is to ensure a safe and abundant food supply, contributing to healthier people everywhere.

For more than 70 years, the IFT has been unlocking the potential of the food science community by creating a dynamic global forum where members from more than 100 countries can share, learn, and grow. We champion the use of sound science across the food value chain through the exchange of knowledge, by providing education, and by furthering the advancement of the profession. IFT has offices in Chicago, Illinois and Washington, D.C. For more information, please visit ift.org .

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