NYC restaurants to post sodium warnings

by Eric Schroeder
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New York is the first state to require warning labels on high-sodium menu items.
This icon will alert New York City diners to the sodium content of their restaurant meals.

NEW YORK – Customers dining in certain foodservice establishments in New York City will see a new icon on Dec. 1 alerting them to the presence of products with 2,300 mg or more of sodium — the total recommended daily limit. With the announcement, New York City becomes the first city in the nation to require chain restaurants to post warning labels next to menu items that contain high levels of sodium.

The icon, a salt shaker inside of a triangle, must be posted next to items with 2,300 mg or more of sodium in foodservice establishments that are part of chains with 15 or more locations nationwide. The restaurant chains will have 90 days to comply with the new rule before the possibility of receiving a fine. The proposal was passed unanimously on Sept. 9 by the New York City Board of Health.

According to the New York City Board of Health the rule will apply to 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 warning statement must explain that items with the icon have more than the recommended daily limit of sodium and that high sodium intake may increase blood pressure and risk of heart disease and stroke.

The US Dept. of Agriculture and the US Dept. of Health and Human Services are among the scientific bodies that have recommended that Americans reduce their daily sodium intake to less than 2,300 mg. 

Mary Bassett, health commissioner for New York City
Mary Bassett, health commissioner for New York City

“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 Mary Bassett, health commissioner for New York City. “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 the restaurant chain is on board with giving consumers as much information as needed to make informed decisions when dining.

“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,” Tankel said. “In that same spirit of transparency, we have revised our menus again to include this sodium warning.”

The decision to add the sodium icon at certain foodservice establishments also was applauded by the American Heart Association.

“Americans are consuming dangerous levels of sodium, most often found in processed or restaurant food,” said Robin Vitale, senior director of government relations for the AHA. “This rule will help to increase transparency. As a valuable tool for the majority of New Yorkers who should be limiting their sodium consumption due to high risk for hypertension, heart disease and stroke, NYC chain restaurants will have to use this warning icon whenever those food items have at least 2,300mg of sodium. We applaud those restaurants that are already implementing the rule, and we look forward to full implementation by all chain restaurants in the weeks ahead.”

For more information on the sodium warning rule visit www.nyc.gov/health.

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