The High Salt Icon Arrives in NYC

Certain chain restaurants must now mark their saltiest dishes with a warning.

U.S. Department of Agriculture | Flickr Creative Commons

Tuesday marks the beginning of the use of a high sodium warning icon on New York City menus.

In accordance with the NYC Health Department, any city chain restaurant that operates 15 or more locations in the United States must add a warning icon to menus, menu boards, and item tags next to listed dishes that exceed 2,300 milligrams of sodium in content — the recommended limit of salt per day.

The icon:

The New York City High Sodium Warning Icon.

Applebee’s, one of those restaurants affected had already started meeting the requirement at the beginning of November. “Transparency, keeping people informed about what to eat…minor, in the relative sense,” is how Zane Tankel, chairman and CEO of Apple-Metro, Inc. (the New York Metropolitan Area franchisee for Applebee’s) described the way that the new health rule will affect his business in a Monday press conference.

On the other hand, Dan Goldberg of Politico New York reports that the National Restaurant Association plans to file a lawsuit against the New York City Health Department over the new ruling. Politico quotes Christin Fernandez, spokesperson for the National Restaurant Association, as saying, “While the Board of Health thinks they are targeting corporate chains, in reality they are dealing yet another blow to many of New York’s small businesses that have been working and continue to work hard to provide nutritional access to their customers.”

According to the “Dietary Guidelines for Americans” literature released by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in 2010, “the higher an individual’s sodium intake, the higher the individual’s blood pressure.” The agencies also reported that “virtually all Americans consume more sodium than they need,” with an average intake of approximately 3400 mg per day.

The NYC Health Department sites a study by the Nutrition Society that between 1997-98 and 2009-10 the mean sodium content of eight of the leading fast-food restaurants in the U.S. increased by more than 23 percent—and further notes MenuStat in claiming that: “Roughly 10 percent of menu items sold in NYC chain food service establishments covered by the proposed rule have at least 2,300 mg of sodium and will require a warning label.”

New York City is the first city in the nation to require the high sodium labels, but won’t start enforcement with fines until March 1, 2016.

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