NEW YORK CITY — New York became the first city in the country to require chain restaurants to post warnings on their menus next to items with high sodium content after the Board of Health unanimously approved the proposal Wednesday.
Under the new requirements, items with more than 2,300 mg of sodium will be marked with a salt shaker inside of a triangle and include the word "warning." The triangle is commonly used as a road danger symbol.
Restaurants with more than 15 locations nationwide, approximately 12.5 percent of all city restaurants, will be required to change their menus to reflect the new rules.
The new notification will also explain that the item exceeds daily salt intake recommendations.
"High sodium intake can increase blood pressure and risk of heart disease and stroke," the warning will also read.
The Department of Health, which requested the change to the city's health code, said the "rule will further improve the overall health" of city residents.
"With a simple menu icon and statement to alert restaurant customers which items have exceedingly high sodium, New Yorkers will have easily accessible information that can affect their health," the Department of Health said in a statement.
City health officials say the rule is necessary because 80 percent of New Yorkers already consume more than the recommended daily salt intake limit of 2,300 mg. The average adult in New York consumes 3,200 mg of sodium per day, 40 percent more than the recommended amount.
Much of that salt intake comes from processed and restaurant foods which have much higher sodium levels than the food people prepare in their homes. The warning labels only apply to items that exceed the daily recommended salt intake.
The salt levels in restaurant food has also jumped 23 percent from from 1997 to 2010, according to the Department of Health.
Consumers face confusing choices when dining out, say Health Department officials. Even items considered healthy, such as salads, can contain more than the recommenced daily salt intake at some restaurant chains.
Melissa Fleischut, president and CEO of the New York State Restaurant Association, said the rule will place a financial burden on restaurants for having to print new menus.
"This is just the latest in a long litany of superfluous hoops that restaurants here in New York must jump through," Fleischut said. "Every one of these cumbersome new laws makes it tougher and tougher for restaurants to find success."
New York City began requiring chain restaurants to display the caloric count of food on its menu items in 2006. This new effort is part of Mayor Bill de Blasio's OneNYC plan which aims to reduce premature deaths 25 percent by 2040.
The new rules are scheduled to take effect in December. Violators are subject to $200 fines.