Fast food chains work with UK authorities to improve health of their food

Posted by Isobel Drake on 13th May 2009

Some of the most well-known restaurant chains on the UK high street have agreed to work with the Food Standards Agency (FSA) to put healthy eating firmly on the menu for their customers.PizzaExpress, Pizza Hut, The Restaurant Group, Tragus and Domino’s have all agreed to provide commitments, which will focus on the range of healthier options available to their customers. The companies together operate more than 2,000 restaurants and takeaway outlets across the UK.

Although the commitments are different for each company, they share the aim of helping their customers enjoy a healthier, more balanced diet, the FSA advised. The companies describe their progress to date and identify specific projects, which take into account procurement, menu planning, kitchen practice and consumer information. Each business will give the Agency a six month progress update.

Some of the measures announced overnight included:

* salt reduction projects – finding ways to use less salt in pizza dough and training hundreds of chefs not to use salt in food preparation.
* extensive work to collect full nutritional data for products and recipes (for restaurant groups with seasonally changing menus across many brands this involves thousands of products) – this data will then be used to help recipe reformulation and to provide more customer information
* reviewing children’s menus to make them healthier, including using more ‘hidden’ vegetables in dishes and offering more fruit
* working with suppliers to identify core products lower in saturated fat, for example to identify a lower-fat mozzarella cheese as a pizza topping or using lower fat dressings and milk
* increasing the range of healthier options on offer, including more salads, soups, fish dishes, grilled foods and desserts with more fruit.

Progress described by the companies includes a 30% reduction of salt across the menu by one company since 2004, the introduction of a pizza with a cheese that contains one third less fat (than the standard cheese) and a 500 calorie pizza.

A number of healthier dishes have already been trialled extensively by some of the companies before being introduced. These trials show ‘health by stealth’ is being achieved – many of the changes to make meals healthier are not noticeable to customers, as they still taste as good but offer lower levels of fat, salt and sugar.

“Tastes are changing and people want to eat more healthily,” Dawn Primarolo, Minister for Public Health, noted. “These commitments will help people make healthier choices and will go some way towards our aim to make healthy food the norm.”

Rosemary Hignett, Head of Nutrition at the FSA, added that the number of companies committed to working with the Agency was rising rapidly following a voluntary commitment by some chains to show calorie information on menus. “The commitments made by these well-known companies are good news for those of us who eat out and good news for public health,” she said. “We now have more than 40 companies working with the Agency to ensure their customers can make healthier choices if they want to. We estimate this could benefit around eight million customers every day, which is clearly a significant achievement.”