salt shaker icon menu
Restaurants to flag high – sodium items with a salt shaker icon

A state appeals court has upheld a rule requiring all New York City chain restaurants to post warning signs on their saltiest menu items. Restaurants with at least 15 locations nationwide have been required for the past year to flag high – sodium items with a salt shaker icon, even though the rule was challenged in a lawsuit filed by the National Restaurant Association.

On Friday, the New York Supreme Court Appellate Division agreed with a lower court that the city’s Board of Health “did not exceed their authority” by adopting the rule. It also rejected the industry group’s description of the warning as “arbitrary and capricious.”

Following Friday’s release of the appellate ruling, the National Restaurant Association said it plans to explore “all of our legal options moving forward.”

“Local mandates on sodium regulation are a costly and onerous burden on all New York City restaurateurs,” Cicely Simpson, the group’s executive vice president, said in a statement.

“Instead of confusing state and local mandates, we believe the best approach to disclosing nutrition information is the uniformed national menu standard that will go into effect this year.”

The New York City Health Department originally implemented the sodium warning rule in December 2015, but legal challenges delayed its enforcement until a court cleared the way in late May.

Under the rule, chain restaurants with 15 or more locations anywhere in the country are required to place the salt shaker icons next to any menu item with more than 2,300 milligrams of sodium. That’s roughly a teaspoon of salt and the daily limit suggested by the federal government.

Elevated sodium levels can lead to higher blood pressure, which is a leading risk factor for strokes and heart disease.

In its ruling, a panel of justices from First Department of New York Supreme Court Appellate Division wrote that the sodium warning mandate “does not attempt to solve a social problem by choosing between competing ends; rather, it attempts to give consumers information which will make them better able to make their own nutritional decisions.”

American Heart Association chief executive officer Nancy Brown called the appellate ruling “a welcome resolution to more than a year of debates” over the lengths chain restaurants should take to warn patrons about high-sodium menu items.

“This is a victory for consumers, who are better empowered to make choices about the foods they eat.  It will undoubtedly help New Yorkers lower their risk of high blood pressure,” Brown said in a statement. “Hopefully, other cities across America will follow New York City’s inspiring example and do what’s right for the health of their citizens.”

New York City Health Commissioner Mary T. Bassett, M.D., agreed that the ruling will help city residents interested in lowering their sodium intake to make educated choices when dining out.

“The Health Department will continue developing polices that uphold our mission of promoting and protecting the health of all New Yorkers,” she said.

Approximately 3,300 chain restaurants are subject to the rule, which the city began enforcing last June. Violators receive a $200 fine.

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