NEW YORK CITY — New York could become the first city to require chain restaurants to place warnings on their menus next to dishes with high sodium levels.
The Board of Health voted Wednesday to consider a request from the Department of Health to require chain restaurants to post warning labels on menus and menu boards next to items with 2,300 mg or more of sodium.
Doctors recommend that daily salt intake not exceed 2,300 mg. The consequences of a diet high in salt include high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke, all of which can be fatal.
City officials say the proposed change to the health code is part of Mayor Bill de Blasio's effort to reduce early death 20 percent by 2025.
The Department of Health is targeting the city's chain restaurants for a few reasons. Chain restaurants make up 12.5 percent of all city restaurants and sodium content of food at those establishments is on the rise, according to the city.
The sodium content of menu items in the top fast-food restaurant jumped more than 20 percent from 1997 to 2010, said the Department of Health. More than three quarters, 77 percent, of salt in Americans' diets comes from restaurants and processed foods.
High sodium content has especially affected New York City residents, according to the city. The average adult in New York consumes 3,200 mg of sodium per day, 40 percent more than the recommended amount.
"The new rule will simultaneously educate consumers about the dangers of high sodium as well as identify food items with high sodium content," the Department of Health said in a statement.
The proposed warning label depicts a salt shaker inside of a triangle, which is commonly used as a road danger symbol.
The proposal has come under heavy criticism from the New York State Restaurant Association, which says the city has not shared the language of the proposed rule change.
“The restaurants in New York City are already heavily regulated at every level. Federal law already mandates that restaurants provide sodium level information to consumers upon request and this proposal would only add to the mountain of red tape these establishments have to deal with," Melissa Fleischut, president & CEO of the New York State Restaurant Association, said in a statement.
The city required chain restaurants to display the caloric count of food on its menu items in 2006.
The New York State Restaurant Association said its easy to look at fast food chains as part of a big corporate conglomerate, but many are run by individual franchise owners. It's these small business women and men who will have to bear the expense of changing menus and menu boards to reflect new standards, the group said.
"With separate labeling laws currently in the legislative houses and on the books at the state, federal and local levels, the composition of menus may soon have more warning labels than food products," said Fleischut.
The proposed rule change will now enter into a public comment phase. The final vote will take place in September and the rule change would take effect in December if approved.