Salt is in the news often these days. And even if you don’t have any apparent reasons to be careful of your sodium intake, it’s probably a good idea to become more salt sensitive. It’s definitely a culprit in health problems that can “sneak up on you.” Honestly, we’re all eating too much salt, even if we don’t know we are.
And that’s where New York City comes in. New York is no stranger to proposing regulations surrounding food and beverages. New York City has banned trans fats at restaurants, posted calorie counts on menus and tried, unsuccessfully, to limit the size of sodas. Now the city is taking aim at a new edible adversary: sodium.
Under a plan to be presented by the de Blasio administration on Wednesday, many chain restaurants would have to post a warning label on the menu beside any dish that has more than 2,300 milligrams of sodium, the daily limit recommended by many nutritionists.
The amount is akin to a teaspoon of salt, and foods that contain it — like a half-rack of ribs at T.G.I. Fridays (2,420 milligrams), or the chicken fajitas at Applebee’s (4,800 milligrams) — would be denoted by a small icon of a saltshaker.
The measure, which requires approval by the Board of Health, could take effect as soon as December. It is the first foray by Mayor Bill de Blasio into the kind of high-profile public health policies championed by his predecessor, Michael R. Bloomberg.
“It’s quite difficult for consumers to understand which products might have too much sodium in them,” said Dr. Sonia Angell, a deputy commissioner at the city’s Health Department, who pointed to links between high sodium intake and a greater risk of heart disease and high blood pressure.
Attempts by the city to regulate New Yorkers’ eating habits have often been resisted by restaurant groups, which call such rules onerous and an infringement on consumer rights. Mr. de Blasio’s sodium proposal was no exception.
“Restaurants in New York City are already heavily regulated at every level,” said Melissa Fleischut, president of the New York State Restaurant Association. Pointing to various federal and local rules, she added, “The composition of menus may soon have more warning labels than food products.”
If passed, the proposal, which was reported by The Associated Press, would affect mainly restaurants with 15 establishments or more in New York City, along with some movie theaters and ballpark concession stands. Officials said about 10 percent of menu items would require labels.
Still, many fast-food staples would escape the labeling threshold, like a Whopper with cheese at Burger King (1,260 milligrams of sodium) or KFC’s chicken potpie (1,970 milligrams).
“It’s a rather conservative choice of benchmark,” said Michael Jacobson, executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a nutrition group. “It seems pretty generous to the restaurant industry: Up to a whole day’s worth of sodium, and you don’t have to put an icon on your menu,” Mr. Jacobson said. But, he added, “Hopefully it will guide people away from these kinds of meals.”
This is not the first time that a New York City mayor has taken on salty foods. Mr. Bloomberg introduced the National Salt Reduction Initiative to encourage chains to lower the amount of sodium in their products voluntarily.
By the end of this year, Mr. Bloomberg’s effort to print calorie counts on menus is going national: The Food and Drug Administration is to require calorie counts in national restaurant chains, movie theaters and pizza parlors.
Those rules could pose a legal wrinkle for the city’s sodium plan, since states and localities would be forbidden to add their own nutrition labels to places covered under federal rules. City officials said their plan would pass muster because the saltshaker functions as a “warning label,” not a nutritional one.
There are a few things that FoodFacts.com takes issue with – like someone saying that soon there will be more warning labels than food items listed on menus. Here’s a thought. Perhaps restaurants should commit to preparing and serving foods with livable sodium levels. Then they wouldn’t have to “litter” their menus with small salt shaker images. The health of consumers should be a significant concern for all kinds of restaurants – fast food, fast casual, and sit down establishments alike. Consumers are responsible for the popularity and profitability of all of them. You’d think they’d be more concerned about helping consumers stay healthy, and able and capable of patronizing their locations for years to come. Until they are, it’s probably a good idea to use those images of salt shakers on their menus (not just in New York City, but everyplace else as well) so we know what we’re eating.