A New York State lawmaker has introduced a bill to ban the use of salt in food preparation at restaurants. Assemblyman Felix Ortiz, who has been a champion of menu labeling and a trans fat ban in the state, said in the bill's text that it is an effort to reduce sodium in consumers' diets to improve overall health.
The legislation would give customers the opportunity to salt their own food after it was prepared. "In this way, consumers have more control over the amount of sodium they intake and are given the option to exercise healthier diets and healthier lifestyles," according to the bill.
The bill references a report issued by the World Health Organization that found that 75 percent or more of the sodium intake in the United States comes from processed or restaurant foods. Other studies have shown that lowering the amount of salt in consumers' diets — even by small amounts — could reduce cases of heart disease, stroke and heart attacks.
Melissa Fleischut, vice president of the New York State Restaurant Association, said that while Ortiz is certainly well meaning, the bill "is misguided."
"I don't know if he understands fully all the facts as to how food is prepared in a restaurant or the benefits of having sodium in food, the benefits of sodium to the body," she said. "We'll have to meet with him and explain the importance of sodium to the diet and in food preparation."
Giving consumers the option of adding salt to their taste after the food preparation might work for some foods, like french fries, but wouldn't be acceptable for other items in which salt is an essential part of the preparation process, like with pancakes or even pasta.
"Consumers' tastes and what they're used to wouldn't adjust if we just suddenly banned salt in New York ," Fleishut said. "The food that you eat when you go out to eat to a restaurant is going to taste drastically different. And consumers aren't going to be happy."
The New York City Health Department in January began a nationwide effort to encourage the voluntary reduction of the amount of salt in packaged and restaurant foods. The National Salt Reduction Initiative is a coalition of cities, states and health organizations working to help food manufacturers and restaurants reduce Americans' salt intake by 20 percent over five years.
Fleishut said the voluntary measure to reduce sodium makes for more sense for the restaurant industry rather than a mandate to ban its use altogether.