Salt Warning Peppering NYC Menus

Sodium posting rule goes into effect

New York City Salt

NEW YORK -- The New York City Department of Health & Mental Hygiene’s sodium warning requirement went into effect Dec. 1. Foodservice establishments in New York City that are part of chains with 15 or more locations nationwide will be required to post salt shaker icons next to items with 2,300 milligrams or more of sodium, the total recommended daily limit.

This includes combo items, such as an order-by-number meal that might include a soup and a sandwich or a burger and french fries. The rule also requires chain foodservice establishments to post a warning statement where customers place their orders. The statement explains that items with the icon have more than the recommended daily limit of sodium and that high sodium intake can increase blood pressure and risk of heart disease and stroke.

The plan faces opposition from restaurant groups and salt producers, who say the city is going overboard.

But the plan faces opposition from restaurant groups and salt producers, who say the city is going overboard, said an Associated Press report.

Salt producers say the city is acting on misimpressions about the risks of salt in New Yorkers’ diets. An international study involving 100,000 people suggested last year that most people’s salt intake was OK for heart health, though other scientists faulted the study.

Restaurateurs say healthy eating initiatives shouldn’t single out any one ingredient and that the city shouldn’t create its own salt-warning scheme when federal regulators are working on new, national sodium guidelines.

Such local requirements put an “overly onerous and costly burden” on city chain restaurants, often owned by small-time franchisees, the National Restaurant Association said in a statement. The group said it is planning a legal challenge to the city’s salt warning.

Health Department officials say they have clear authority to require the warnings and believe the public health benefits outweigh any burdens to restaurant owners.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services recommend that Americans reduce their daily sodium intake to less than 2,300 mg of sodium. New York is the first city in the nation to require chain restaurants to post warning labels next to menu items that contain high levels of sodium. Chains with 15 or more locations have 90 days to comply with the new rule before the possibility of receiving a fine.

The New York City Board of Health passed the proposal unanimously on Sept. 9, 2015.

"The vast majority of adults in New York City consume more sodium than recommended, and too few understand the link between high sodium intake and hypertension, heart disease, and stroke," said Dr. Mary Bassett, New York City Health Commissioner. "These warnings are needed in restaurants because the majority of sodium in our diet is not coming from what we decide to add with the salt shaker at the table, it's already in the food when we buy it. These icons will help New Yorkers make more informed choices when dining out."

Zane Tankel, CEO of Apple-Metro, owner of Applebee's restaurants in New York City, said, "When calorie counts were mandated in NYC, we adjusted our menus to comply, creating a transparency of communication with our guests ensuring they had information necessary to make meal decisions. In that same spirit of transparency, we have revised our menus again to include this sodium warning. We want our guests to have as much information as needed to make informed decisions when dining in our restaurants.”

Chain restaurants constitute one-third of all restaurant traffic in New York City. The evidence suggests that health warnings increase knowledge and can lead to decreased purchase and consumption of certain products, the Health Department said. Labels facilitate education and can inform customers of the risks of consuming certain products, it added.