Appeals court pauses NYC restaurant salt warning rule

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A New York appeals court on Monday temporarily stopped New York City from enforcing a new rule requiring chain restaurants to post warnings on menu items high in sodium.

A new menu from Applebee’s restaurant is seen at one of its outlet in the Manhattan borough of New York City November 30, 2015. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

A judge in the Appellate Division, First Department, granted an interim stay of enforcement of the rule. Starting tomorrow, violators would have been subject to $200 fines. Justice Eileen Rakower of state Supreme Court in Manhattan last Wednesday shot down a challenge to the rule by the National Restaurant Association, paving the way for enforcement of the regulation.

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.

“We are gratified that the appellate court recognized the seriousness of the issues that we’ve raised on appeal,” said S. Preston Ricardo, a lawyer for the restaurant association.

The group claims the rule is “arbitrary and capricious” and “filled with irrational exclusions and nonsensical loopholes.” It said only the City Council could impose such a regulation.

The city said it believes the rule will ultimately prevail. “We are confident, despite the stay of enforcement for now, that the court will uphold the sodium warning rule,” the Department of Health said in a statement. It will continue to warn chains if they are not compliant, but not issue violations while the stay is in place.

A full panel of the court will decide, probably later this month, whether to keep the fines at bay until it rules on an appeal, Ricardo said.

Rakower 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.

Years ago, the city banned transfats in restaurants and required chains to post calorie counts.

However, a proposed ban on selling sugary drinks larger than 16 ounces (0.5 liters) was struck down by the state’s highest court in 2014.

Unlike the city’s failed soda ban, Rakower said, the salt rule did not restrict the use of sodium.

The city’s Board of Health “did not act outside the bounds of its authority in the area of public health by adopting a rule requiring chain restaurants to post sodium warning labels,” the judge said in a written decision Friday.

Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe