The National Restaurant Association will file a lawsuit this week to challenge New York City’s new rules, effective Tuesday, that require a salt shaker icon on many chain restaurant menus, the association said Tuesday.
New York City’s Board of Health voted unanimously in September to require restaurants with 15 or more units nationwide to add warning labels — a salt shaker in a triangle — on menu items that exceed the recommended daily limit of 2,300 milligrams of sodium.
The rules went into effect Tuesday, and violators will face a $200 fine. New York is the nation’s first city to require the sodium labels.
“While the Board of Health thinks they are targeting corporate chains, in reality they are dealing yet another blow to many of New York’s small businesses that have been working and continue to work hard to provide nutritional access to their customers,” said Christin Fernandez, an NRA spokeswoman, in an emailed statement. “That is why we are taking legal action against this latest assault which goes too far, too fast for New York’s restaurant community.”
Many multi-unit restaurant brands had complied with the new rules by Tuesday.
Dr. Mary T. Bassett, commissioner of the New York City Department of Health, tweeted a thank you to Applebee’s Neighborhood Grill & Bar on Monday, including a photograph of the chain’s menu with the salt symbol. She included the hashtag #WatchTheSalt.
Zane Tankel, chairman and CEO of New York-area Applebee’s franchisee Apple-Metro, was quoted in an NBC report as saying that the icon gives customers more information. “I think it’s important that we give them the opportunity to make the right decisions,” Tankel said.
Fernandez of the NRA said the restaurant industry has been committed to lower-sodium options for customers.
“As an association, we advocated for a uniform national menu-labeling standard on behalf of the industry. We believe consumers should have the same access to nutritional information from Portland, Maine, to Portland, Ore.,” she said.
Fernandez said mandates like those in New York City “unravel that uniformity.”
DineEquity Inc. said 48 of its IHOP and Applebee’s restaurants were affected by the rules.
“We want to provide guests choices and information so they can make the best decisions for their personal circumstances. The information provided under this rule has been readily available, and accessed by our guests, for a very long time. We believe customers are best served by a uniform national standard, and we have that under the Affordable Care Act,” Patrick Lenow, DineEquity vice president for communications and public affairs, said in a statement.
In addition to putting the salt-shaker icon on menu items, restaurants must post a warning next to the point of sale that states: “The sodium (salt) content of this item is higher than the total daily recommended limit (2,300 mg). High sodium intake can increase blood pressure and risk of heart disease and stroke.”
The average American consumes about 3,400 milligrams of sodium each day, the Centers for Disease Control reports. The Federal Drug Administration recommends some adults — especially those who suffer hypertension, are African-American or age 51 or older — to limit their sodium intake to 1,500 milligrams a day.
New York City has regulated menu items in the past, banning trans fats and requiring chain restaurants to post calorie counts. The city’s effort to ban the sale of sodas and sugary drinks larger than 16 ounces was rejected in June 2014 by the state supreme court.
Update: Dec. 1, 2015 This story has been updated with a comment from DineEquity Inc.
Contact Ron Ruggless at Ronald.Ruggless@Penton.com.
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