Spoonful of salt (sodium)

New York City and the National Restaurant Association are waiting it out to see who will emerge victorious in the latest legal battle over warnings on high-sodium menu items.

Under a law approved unanimously last September by the city’s Board of Health, chain restaurants must put a shalt shaker warning icon next to any menu item that exceeds 2,300 milligrams of sodium. That’s the equivalent to a teaspoon of salt and the daily limit recommended by the federal government.

The warning law does not ban the sale of entrées or other dishes with high sodium levels. Instead, city health officials say it’s intended to help inform consumers about the sodium levels in their food choices. They also want more of the public to understand the link between excessive salt intake and high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke.

The rule, which only applies to restaurant companies with 15 or more locations across the country, went into effect on Dec. 1. The city had planned to begin slapping fines of $200 on violators starting on March 1, but the day before they could hand out penalties, an appellate judge temporary blocked enforcement of the rule.

The case currently remains in appellate court, which could make a decision any day now.

The Feb. 29 enforcement stay was a surprise turn of events. The order came less than a week after a state Supreme Court judge had shot down a legal challenge to the warning law by the restaurant trade group, which described the sodium rule as an “unlawful and unprecedented” mandate and called the law “arbitrary and capricious.”

The group argued grocery stores were excluded from the sodium warning requirements and that only the city council could impose such a regulation.

Some chain businesses, including Applebee’s, Subway, T.G.I. Friday’s and Regal Entertainment movie theaters, have already started adding the sodium warnings to their menus.

Those who haven’t will receive warnings, but the city health department said it would hold off from issuing violations while the court stay remains in place.

“We are confident, despite this stay of enforcement for now, that the court will uphold the sodium warning rule,” it said in a statement. It added that sodium warnings are “critical information New Yorkers need to protect their hearts and their health.”

Currently, a panel of judges from the Appellate Division, First Judicial Department, is weighing legal arguments submitted from both sides of the case and will either make a ruling or set a hearing date on the issue.