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New York's new sodium labels might not impact burger chains

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Gene J. Puskar/AP/File

(Read caption) This March 17, 2014 photo shows a Wendy's single hamburger with cheese combo meal at a Wendy's restaurant in Pittsburgh. Wendy's reports quarterly earnings on Thursday, May 8, 2014.

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New York City’s new labeling rule for high-sodium foods will have less impact on quick-service burger chains than the state’s planned gradual rise to a $15-an-hour minimum wage that New York state has approved.

Members of the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene voted unanimously last week to require restaurants to add a menu warning label—depicting a salt shaker—for food items containing more than the 2,300 mg recommended daily maximum. Yes, french fries, can be high in sodium, but nutritionists looking to point fingers at quick-service menus can skip burgers: very few major-chain burgers will require a warning label.

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In fact, no single burger at Burger King, McDonald’s, Wendy’s, In-N-Out Burger, Sonic and others is over the sodium threshold. Carl’s Jr., never one for culinary moderation, goes just over the top with its ½ lb. Thickburger Diablo (2,630 mg), the 1/3-lb.version (2,440 mg) and the ½ lb. Mile High Bacon Cheeseburger.

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But those numbers pale in comparison with the sodium levels in burgers offered at some casual-dining chains. The Big Mouth Bites at Chili’s pack 4,520 mg of sodium. Close behind are Chili’s Southern Smokestack Burger (4,470 mg) and Sweet & Smoky Burger (4,020 mg). Applebee’s Quesadilla Burger has 3,250 mg.

Several of Red Robin’s top-tier Finest burgers will be wearing warnings: the Southern Charm (3,377 mg); the Smoke & Pepper Burger (3,778 mg) and Black & Bleu Burger (4,496 mg), all of which come with Bottomless Fries.

Of course, many of these casual-dining burgers are larger than quick-service burgers, which in part explains the sodium differences. But the point is that with this nutrition crusade at least, quick-service burgers needn’t be demonized.

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An updated Food Environment Atlas compiled by the USDA’s Economic Research Service has been issued. A number of its interactive maps could be useful to those plotting unit expansion, since it’s possible to drill down to county-by-county restaurant density (2012 vs. 2007) not only of quick-service and full-service restaurants but also of grocery stores. Maps detailing food prices and taxes, local foods and socioeconomic characteristics also are part of the package, available here.