New York City Mandates Warning Labels on High Sodium Foods in Chain Restaurants

New York City Institutes Warning Labels on High Sodium Foods in Chain Restaurants

The New York City Board of Health has approved a measure that requires chain restaurants, along with movie theaters and ballpark concession stands, to carry warning labels on high sodium foods.

According to an article in The New York Times, the city is the first in the nation to institute such a warning. While Seattle does require chain restaurants to include salt warning labels, the New York City measure will require high sodium foods (2,300 milligrams of sodium or more) to carry labels bearing a salt shaker outlined with a black triangle, making the label easily identifiable.

The New York Times reports:

Offerings as varied as a large turkey club at Quiznos (5,820 milligrams) and a half-rack of ribs at T.G.I. Friday’s (2,420 milligrams) will be marked with the warning, a step that health experts said would show New Yorkers just how much salt was hidden in seemingly unobjectionable dishes.

The hope is that the warning labels will educate consumers on foods that they may be surprised contain such high levels of sodium. What’s more, health experts contend that the labels could help the public stave off heart disease while adding transparency to menus.

“Many others recognize the important public health impact of excess sodium intake, and I am hopeful that others will follow suit,” Dr. Mary T. Bassett, the city’s health commissioner, said at a news conference, reported by The New York Times.

Labels will be required in chains with more than 15 restaurants across the country. Violators will be punished with a $200 fine. Since 75 percent of sodium comes from packaged foods and restaurant meals, health officials hope the measure will reduce heart disease and stroke, two of the nation’s leading causes of death. According to The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Americans dine at restaurants four or five times a week—and just one of those meals may contain more than an entire day’s recommended amount of sodium.

“High sodium levels in the diet is one of the single biggest health problems in this country,” said Michael Jacobson, executive director of the nutrition group Center for Science in the Public Interest.

According to the New York Times, while some restaurants opposed the ban, opposition was not across the board. Panera Bread, for example, supports the new legislation. Recently, the bakery chain highlighted the importance of transparency, releasing a list of over 80 ingredients to be removed from its menu.

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Salt shaker image via Shuttershock