Too much salt in our diets is causing up to 14,000 preventable deaths every year according to health campaigners.
And food producers, they say, are not meeting voluntary reduction targets because it would drive down their profits.
It is called the hidden killer, causing strokes, high blood pressure and heart disease.
Professor Graham MacGregor, chairman of Consensus on Salt and Health (CASH), said: “The easiest way to make bland, cheap food more palatable is to add salt – and salt is practically free.
“This is a national scandal. The UK was leading the world in salt reduction, but the Government is doing nothing to ensure that the 2017 salt targets are met.”
Professor MacGregor is urging the Government to impose strict limits on the amount of salt used in processed foods.
So far only one out of 28 food categories is on track to meet 2017 salt reduction targets. That is bread rolls.
A product survey, which was conducted using the updated FoodSwitch UK app and its SaltSwitch filter, compared two shopping baskets, each containing similar everyday food items, but with different amounts of salt.
The difference in salt content between the unhealthy and healthy baskets of products was 57g of salt.
Findings revealed many products exceed the maximum salt reduction targets.
Galaxy Ultimate Marshmallow Hot Chocolate is saltier than seawater and has 16 times more salt (per 100g) than the maximum target – one serving is saltier than a bag of crisps, the study found.
Katharine Jenner, registered nutritionist and campaign director for CASH, said: “Salt is the forgotten killer.
“The findings from our FoodSwitch shopping basket survey are alarming and we are shocked to see that many food manufacturers and retailers are still failing to meet the salt reduction targets, despite having had years to work towards them.
“We congratulate the other, more responsible manufacturers, that have successfully achieved them, or are on track to meet them by the end of the year – which shows it is possible.
“With only nine months to go, action must be taken now.”
The app was able to demonstrate in all 28 categories there were products with at least 30% less salt, which would meet the maximum salt reduction target.
CASH said the shopping basket analysis reaffirms the public health goal of consuming no more than 6g of salt per person per day is achievable, but said manufacturers are dragging their heels.
Dr Alison Tedstone, chief nutritionist at Public Health England, said: “The food industry has reduced the amount of salt found in our foods by 11% in recent years, which is encouraging progress.
“We know there is more to do. This is why we’re talking to retailers, manufacturers, and the eating out of home sector on how they go further and faster to reaching the 2017 salt reduction targets.”