New York City can enforce rule on salt warnings in restaurants: court

NEW YORK (Reuters) - New York City can enforce a rule requiring chain restaurants to post warnings on menu items high in sodium, a New York appeals court ruled on Thursday.

In February, a New York state judge upheld the rule, knocking down a challenge by the National Restaurant Association. But the Appellate Division, First Department, temporarily stopped New York City from enforcing it. The court lifted has now lifted that interim order.

The rule, believed to be the first of its kind in the United States, requires city restaurants with 15 or more locations nationwide to post a salt shaker encased in a black triangle as a warning next to menu items with more than 2,300 milligrams of sodium, the daily limit recommended by the federal government.

Violators will be subject to $200 fines. A spokesman said the city would begin enforcement on June 6.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said he was pleased with the court’s ruling on what he called a “common sense” regulation.

“New Yorkers deserve to know a whole day’s worth of sodium could be in one menu item, and too much sodium could lead to detrimental health problems,” de Blasio said in a statement.

Christin Fernandez, a spokeswoman for the National Restaurant Association, said that, while the decision means restaurants will have to comply with what she called an “unlawful and unprecedented” rule, the trade group continued to move forward with its appeal.

The group has argued the rule is arbitrary and causes confusion for consumers. In February, Justice Eileen Rakower of state Supreme Court in Manhattan found the city’s Board of Health within its rights to adopt the rule, which took effect in December, to help lower blood pressure and reduce the risk of heart attacks and strokes.

The sodium warning follows public health crusades by the city under former Mayor Michael Bloomberg. In 2003, the city banned smoking in bars and restaurants that had not been covered by previous no-smoking laws. Three years later, the city voted to ban transfats in restaurants and amended the health code to require chains to post calorie counts.

In 2012, Bloomberg also proposed a ban on selling sugary drinks larger than 16 ounces (0.5 liters), but it was eventually struck down by the state’s highest court.

Unlike the failed soda ban, Rakower noted, the salt rule did not restrict the use of sodium.

Reporting by Karen Freifeld; editing by Dan Grebler and Alan Crosby