New York City may soon require chain restaurants to post warning labels to their menus alerting diners to their saltiest foods, becoming the first city in the nation to do so.
The city Department of Health has proposed adding a salt shaker icon next to items with more than a teaspoon of sodium -- the recommended daily limit. The plan will be reviewed Wednesday by the Board of Health. A vote would follow in three months.
"Looking at a menu board, people will be able to pick out items that have very high salt content, excessive levels of salt," health Commissioner Dr. Mary Bassett said in an interview. "This effort is part of our overall goal to reduce mortality for all New Yorkers."
Cardiovascular disease is the city and the country's leading cause of death, she said. High sodium intake can increase blood pressure, raising the risk of heart attack or stroke.
An estimated 10 percent of food items have more than 2,300 milligrams of salt and would be eligible for the warning label, she said. Chain restaurants, including fast-food outlets, have been targeted because they usually have standardized recipes for their menu items, she said.
Federal law requires that restaurants have sodium-level information available to consumers upon request. The city under former Mayor Michael Bloomberg began requiring chain restaurants to post calorie counts on their menus.
New York State Restaurant Association president Melissa Fleischut denounced the plan.
"This proposal would only add to the mountain of red tape these establishments have to deal with," she said in a statement. Labeling laws at the local, state and federal levels mean "the composition of menus may soon have more warning labels than food products," she said.
After a public comment session, a board vote would be taken in September and salt shaker symbols could begin appearing on menus as early as December, health officials said.
Mayor Bill de Blasio in a statement said his administration wants to lower the premature mortality rate -- deaths before age 65 -- 25 percent by 2040 and decrease disparities among racial and ethnic groups. "With this warning label, we can increase awareness about the risks of high sodium intake in an effort to reduce chronic diseases in New York City," he said.