STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
If you're dining out in New York City, consider yourself warned. You might see the image of a little salt shaker printed on the menu. That means the particular menu item is high sodium - super salty. A judge has ruled chain restaurants in the city can be forced to issue these warnings. Here's NPR's Allison Aubrey.
ALLISION AUBREY, BYLINE: Before we get to the legal finding, let's get one thing straight. How much salt are we supposed to be consuming? I put the question to Jim O'Hara at the Center for Science in the Public Interest.
JIM O'HARA: We're supposed to eat 2,300 milligrams of sodium a day - that's about a teaspoon of salt.
AUBREY: That's the upper limit. But most Americans consume a lot more. And this can increase the risk of high blood pressure and heart disease. Now, last year, the New York City Board of Health had an idea. Since much of the sodium we consume comes from restaurant food, why not give diners a clear way of knowing which options on the menu are real sodium bombs? So the board passed a rule requiring chains to print a little saltshaker icon next to menu items that are very high in sodium. The National Restaurant Association sued immediately, arguing that the mandate was unnecessary and costly. But now a judge has ruled in favor of the city. And this means the city has the power to enforce its new rule and fine restaurants that don't comply.
THOMAS MERRILL: I do believe that the New York City salt label does protect public health.
AUBREY: That's Thomas Merrill, a lawyer for the city who defended the new rule in court. He says transparency is key. And as the saltshaker warnings have begun to appear on menus, some diners have been surprised.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Thank you for coming to Applebee's on 42nd Street. How may I help you?
AUBREY: I asked the Times Square Applebee's, which is already in compliance with the new rule, what sorts of menu items are flagged with the new salt warning icon.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: There's a lot. There's boneless wings, chicken quesadillas...
AUBREY: ...All of which contain a full day's worth of sodium. The city is giving all restaurant chains until March 1 to comply. Allison Aubrey, NPR News.
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