South Africa: Mandating maximum salt levels in food products

A meeting in September 2016 involved 25 key participants from government, non-governmental organisations, universities, research organisations and professional societies.


South Africa is the first country to include mandated maximum salt targets for a range of processed foods, targeting the 60% of salt in the diet that comes from processed foods. The first set of targets came into effect on the 30th of June 2016, second stage due to occur in June 2019.

South Africa’s legislation, mandating maximum salt levels for a wide range of food products, is the first and most comprehensive example of such legislation in the world at this time. The first phase of the legislation came into effect on 30 June 2016 following a long lead-in period which allowed the food industry time to establish a dialogue with the government and to institute required changes. The second stage is due to be implemented in June 2019.

This work is coordinated by WHO and the University of Wollongong, in collaboration with North-West University, with support from the Bloomberg Philanthropies administered by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Foundation in the USA


The objective of the meeting was to discuss progress, challenges and the way forward for South Africa’s salt reduction strategy by:

  1. Summarising current evidence related to salt reduction in South Africa;
  2. Reflecting on the impacts of the ground-breaking legislation locally, regionally and globally;
  3. Initiate a platform for ongoing and open discussions on the legislative process (i.e. through to the next stage of targets in 2019); and,
  4. Development of a Roadmap to guide new and ongoing advocacy, education and research efforts.

Key Discussion Points

Close consultation and involvement of the food industry during development of the legislation had helped to foster a working relationship enabling problem solving and discussions of challenges.

Challenges included inconsistencies between industry self-reported sodium levels in foods and independent chemical analysis of foods, a difficulty when identifying compliance to targets.

Data was presented on salt consumption levels in South Africa; 65% of individuals consuming > 5 g/day, 40% of young adults consuming >9 g/day.

41% of salt intake came from discretionary salt intake, identifying the need for a population education and awareness campaign to run in parallel.

Roadmap For Further Action

Five priority areas for further action were identified by the group:

  1. Support full compliance with the existing legislation and increase broad multi-disciplinary and multi-agency efforts to prepare for the 2019 legislative thresholds
  2. Target foods eaten outside of the home
  3. Implement the next stage of the campaign to change consumer behaviours
  4. Address health inequalities
  5. Identify additional funds for research and monitoring

Updates To Date

The University of Wollongong, in collaboration with the South African Heart and Stroke Foundation, Vitality Institute and The George Institute for Global Health, secured a Vital Strategies Links grant to establish a monitoring framework. To read more about this, click here.