The food and drink industry is setting up a new working group to thrash out the technical difficulties linked to reducing salt in food, The Grocer has learned.

Under the government’s Responsibility Deal, retailers, suppliers, foodservice providers and restaurant chains have pledged to reduce salt by the end of 2012 so people eat 1g less a day.

But fears have been raised that lowering salt levels in certain foods might lead to shortened shelf lives and bland-tasting goods and even allow bacteria to flourish, causing food safety alerts.

The Food and Drink Federation and the British Retail Consortium are therefore to lead a new working group aimed at tackling the major challenges around salt reduction. Currently being formed, the group will report to the Food Network’s High Level Steering Group.

Bacon and cheese are among the foods that could suffer the most from lower salt levels. “The amount of salt in bacon has already been reduced very substantially over the years,” said Clare Cheney, Provision Trade Federation director general. “As people expect bacon to keep for a reasonable length of time in the fridge we wouldn’t want to reduce this.”

Ed Komorowski, technical director at Dairy UK, said salt played an important role in cheese-making. “It allows particular cultures to grow and suppresses other bacteria,” he said.

“If there are harmful bacteria which a salt level would normally suppress there could be food safety issues, but the more likely issue is the development of undesirable flavours.”