New York City considers adoption of sodium warning requirement for chain restaurants.

  • In June 2015, New York City’s Department of Health proposed to require chain restaurants (with more than 15 locations across the U.S.) to add a sodium warning (such as a salt shaker symbol) to menus and menu boards next to items containing more than the recommended daily intake of 2,300 mg of sodium.  If adopted, the proposal would take effect as soon as December 2015.
  • On July 29, 2015, the Department of Health held a public hearing at which the sodium warning proposal was the subject of debate.  Industry groups and restaurants challenged the measure as onerous and explained that sodium warnings could be misleading or confusing if they must appear next to items that contain multiple serving sizes, e.g., pizza.  Nutritionists and consumer safety groups generally support the measure, although some assert that it does not go far enough and suggest lowering the sodium threshold that would trigger a warning.
  • New York City remains a forerunner in proposing initiatives to promote healthier eating habits.  The sodium proposal follows the city’s successful ban on trans fats and adoption of calorie counts on menus (prior to the federal requirement), as well as the unsuccessful attempt to limit the size of sodas.  In light of the fact that new federal menu labeling standards are set to take effect in the future — with FDA recently having extended the compliance date to December 1, 2016 — the adoption of New York City’s proposal and its implementation timeline could create logistical difficulties for chain restaurants that may need to redesign or reprint menus and menu boards.  Further, although city officials claim that the sodium warning would be a “warning label” and not nutrition information, the warning ultimately could be preempted by federal menu labeling requirements.  The Board of Health is set to vote on the measure in September.