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Judge rejects restaurants’ challenge to NYC salt warnings

A high sodium warning symbol, a saltshaker, will

A high sodium warning symbol, a saltshaker, will have to appear next to New York City restaurant menu options with more than a teaspoon of salt under a rule beginning March 1, 2016. Credit: NYCHMH

Starting next week, chain eateries in New York City that fail to post a black-and-white salt shaker warning next to a menu item containing more than the daily recommended sodium intake can be fined by the government, a state court ruled Wednesday.

Issuing her order from the bench, Supreme Court Justice Eileen Rakower rejected arguments by a restaurant trade group that sued the city.

“Some people love salty food, and are just going to eat those salty foods regardless of whether there’s a salt icon next to it,” Rakower said, according to The Associated Press. “I believe information is power.”

The rule, which carries a $200-per-violation fine — a maximum of $600 per inspector visit — applies to eateries with 15 or more locations nationwide, a definition that fits about 3,000 locations in the city. The icon must appear on menu items that exceed the recommended daily limit of 2,300 milligrams of sodium, equal to about a teaspoon.

Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration enacted the rule in December, and the National Restaurant Association filed its lawsuit soon after. On Wednesday, de Blasio’s office said “this salt shaker will help New Yorkers make better decisions about their diet.

“If your meal has so much sodium that it merits a salt shaker on the menu, then — for the sake of your health — order something else,” de Blasio said in a prepared statement.

Asked about an appeal to a higher court, association spokeswoman Christin Fernandez said, “right now we’re reviewing all of our legal avenues.”

Fernandez criticized the rule as “onerous” “costly” and “unnecessary” “to arbitrarily mandate warning labels for an essential nutrient.” The group’s court papers also said the rule is an unconstitutional abridgment of First Amendment speech rights.

Fines will begin March 1, said Christopher Miller, a spokesman for the city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, the defendant in the lawsuit.

Inspectors will be on the lookout for restaurants that don’t post the icon, print it too small or fail to post an additional warning statement explaining the rule. Each of the three types of violations carries the $200 fine.

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