Sodium under new federal regulation microscope

| by Betsy Craig
Sodium under new federal regulation microscope

It's been a busy year for the FDA, and just when it seems restaurant operators can breathe a collective sigh, the administration is at it again. However, this time it seems sodium is the focus of possible regulatory changes.

The New York City Department of Health is leading this charge and proposed in early June that all chain restaurants with 15 or more locations add a symbol next to menu items that contain more than 2,300 mg of salt (the recommended daily limit). If the city's board of health votes to consider the proposal, final approval could come as early as this month. New York City also would be the first in the United States to mandate the labeling of high-sodium menu items.

High levels of sodium have been attributed to high blood pressure, which can lead to heart disease and stroke, and the average American consumption of sodium now equals about 3,400 mg per day. This increase in sodium intake is making the case for health advocates who have called the proposal pioneering.  And for groups such as the National Salt Reduction Initiative (NSRI) to press ahead. The NRSI was actually established in 2008, through a national partnership of city and state health departments, and public health organizations to introduce a framework for voluntary salt reductions in food items. The organizations involved include the American Medical Association, American Heart Association and the American Public Health Association, along with 45 other city, state and public groups, including the New York City health department. So it seems there is a lot of support for legislation of this type at both the city and state level.

While there is no doubt about the health benefits tied to salt reduction, some organizations such as the Salt Institute have publicly stated that the mandate is "misguided." Yet, despite the mandate's detractors or supporters, it seems that we are rehashing the same process we went through with menu labeling and trans fat. Therefore, the industry needs to be prepared for a more national movement if the mandate is passed.

It is true that sodium consumption has accelerated over the past 10-20 years, but part of me thinks we have seen enough government regulations over the past few years. This makes me wonder, what will they think of next? I encourage restaurant operators to review their menu items and to understand just how much salt is in each.

Restaurant operators have long been using salt to give foods flavor, although perhaps it is time to stop what I call the domino effect of salt. This is based on the high-use of salt in sauces and salad dressings that alter the palate of the consumer. Based on the salt used in those dishes restaurant operators then tend to increase the salt content of other menu items so they have the same level of sodium. While not all restaurant owners and chef operate in this manner, there are those that do in an effort to make bland-tasting foods taste better.

Many chain and independently owned restaurants have taken great strides to reduce the level of sodium in their menu items. And those that have should have nothing to fear. Overall, operators should monitor what happens in New York. If this mandate can make it there, it can make it anywhere.

Topics: Food Safety

Betsy Craig
Betsy Craig brings 20 years of food service industry experience to MenuTrinfo, LLC a menu nutritional labeling Company. Her commitment to the betterment of the food industry and her desire to affect the dining public are the driving forces behind her new company Kitchens with Confidence, LLC. wwwView Betsy Craig's profile on LinkedIn

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