In a history making deal this week, some of the UK’s most popular fast-food companies including McDonald’s and KFC, have agreed to help the government’s campaign to tackle heart disease and obesity by offering customers a healthier choice of food.
In addition, Burger King, Wimpy, Nando’s and Subway have made a vow to reduce fat and salt levels in the coming year.
Part of the changes will involve staff training to ensure customers understand the alternative healthy options on offer as well as being able to prepare food minus additions such as salt and sauces. Nando’s have also agreed to publicise nutritional information. The Food Standards Agency (FSA) will be overseeing the agreement, that will affect the way three million people at over 4,000 British outlets consume fast food.
The changes could not come sooner after nutritionists have complained for a long time about the lack of policing of restaurants and junk food cafés compared to supermarkets who have been forced to reduce salt, sugar and fat from their own brands as well as make nutrition information on packets more obvious. Currently statistics show that one in six meals is eaten out, a figure that is likely to increase over the next ten years.
The FSA hopes to clinch a similar arrangement with coffee shop chains, pubs and family restaurants within the next few months. They have announced that the deals formed part of a long-term agreement with the catering industry after a meeting with workplace caterers earlier in the year.
Rosemary Hignett, FSA’s head of nutrition said, “These are six of the biggest names on the high street, so it is an extremely positive step that for the first time they have agreed to work with us in this way. People see eating out as an enjoyable treat and we don’t wish to change that but we believe that restaurants can help make it easier for us all to take healthier choices when eating outside of our homes.”
Subway, the American based company, has boomed in the UK over the last five years and now has 1,300 outlets in the UK and Ireland. As part of the commitment formed with the FSA, they have agreed to offer free salad with sub sandwiches as a trial, as well as reducing salt and fat levels in their most popular products. Nandos will offer less food that constitutes a “red” sign under the FSA’s traffic light labelling system i.e. high fat, saturated fat, sugar or salt. In addition they will publish nutritional information of food contents on their website. although not in any of their 800-plus stores.
Burger King’s commitment in their 512 UK outlets include reducing salt in their burgers and trialling a cooking oil containing less saturated fat. Wimpy will look at the salt and sugar content of their 10 best selling products by Summer 2009.
In KFC’s 720 outlets lower fat mayonnaise will be introduced and the FSA’s salt targets for 2010 will be met by the end of the year for its tortillas and “twister” products. Salt in chicken fillets will also be reduced. McDonald’s have not confirmed any specific changes but did say they would continue to make nutritional improvements in the line they have been going, “We have done a huge amount already and we have always been of the mind that we don’t make forward promises so that’s why the forward commitments are rather vague,” a spokesman said.
Jeanette Longfield, a campaigner from the food and farming group Sustain, commented, “It’s a good thing if they have agreed to change what they are doing but it depends on what they are doing. Fast food chains are influential. Supermarkets say it is difficult for them to reformulate their takeaway meals if the actual takeaways aren’t lower in salt or fat, because they don’t taste the same.”