Some food manufacturers have increased the amount of salt in their pesto sauces despite an ongoing health campaign to cut levels in grocery products, a survey has found.
Two Sacla products - Italia Organic Vegetarian Pesto No.5 Basil and Italia Pesto No.1 Classic Basil - are 30% saltier than seawater and contain two and a half times for salt per 100g than peanuts, Consensus Action on Salt and Health (Cash) said.
It also found salt levels in both products have increased since they were last surveyed in 2009, and now contain more than 1.5g of salt per serving - more than a McDonald's hamburger.
None of the branded pestos included in the wider survey carried the Department of Health's recommended colour-coded front of pack nutrition label to help consumers "despite some of these products being the worst offenders when it comes to salt", Cash said.
Napolina Green Pesto with Basil, Gino D'Acampo Pesto alla Genovese Basil Pesto and Truly Italian Genovese Basil Pesto all contained between 2g and 2.5g of salt per 100g, while Tesco Reduced Fat Red Pesto, Aldi's Specially Selected Italian Pesto Genovese and Italian Pesto Rosso, Jamie Oliver Green Pesto and Sainsbury's Taste The Difference Pesto Alla Genovese all contained less than 1g of salt per 100g.
Cash noted pesto was a popular choice among parents, particularly for children's pasta dishes, but warned it could increase a child's risk of developing high blood pressure, strokes and heart attacks later in life.
Pesto is also high in saturated fats, with almost half of those surveyed (44%) potentially receiving a red label for saturates on front of pack labelling.
Cash called on Public Health England (PHE) to "act tough" on the food industry, raising concerns that some manufacturers are failing to meet the 2017 salt reduction targets with less than three months to go.
Graham MacGregor, Cash chairman and professor of cardiovascular medicine at Queen Mary University of London, said: "The UK was leading the world in salt reduction, but so far PHE is doing little to ensure that the 2017 salt targets are met, and has not confirmed that they are setting new targets to be achieved by 2020.
"This is a national scandal as we know we can save thousands of people from unnecessary strokes and heart attacks if population salt intake is reduced, and furthermore, it is the most cost effective health policy."
A Sacla spokeswoman said: "We work hard to make authentic Italian products which are good quality, safe to eat and should be enjoyed as part of a balanced diet."
PHE chief nutritionist Dr Alison Tedstone said: "Many popular foods can contain a surprising amount of salt. We've been very clear with the food industry on the importance of reducing salt and meeting the 2017 salt targets.
"Although consumption has reduced by 11%, industry cannot be complacent and PHE will report on their progress next year."