National Salt Reduction Initiative: Packaged and Restaurant Food

In 2009, The National Salt Reduction Initiative (NSRI), a partnership of about 100 health organizations and authorities, convened by the NYC Health Department, worked with the food industry to voluntarily lower the amount of sodium found in packaged and restaurant foods.

Health Risks

Sodium is the main component of salt and can negatively impact our health when consumed in excess. Diets high in sodium can increase blood pressure and put people at greater risk for heart disease and stroke.

On average, Americans consume about 3,400 milligrams (mg) of sodium each day. Federal guidelines recommend no more than 2,300 mg of sodium for the general population.

While it is possible to reduce sodium intake by avoiding highly salted products, the larger challenge is to reduce our intake of sodium that may be hidden in food during manufacturing and restaurant preparation practices. Over 75% of the salt in our diet is found in packaged and restaurant food and single food items often contain more sodium than is recommended we consume each day.

Sodium Targets

The NSRI developed targets to guide companies in reducing the sodium levels in their food products. These targets included 62 packaged food categories and 25 categories of restaurant food, ranging from breakfast cereal to burritos. The initiative included voluntary 2012 and 2014 targets for average sodium levels in each food category (packaged and restaurant food) and a maximum sodium level for all items served in restaurants. The targets were established after a yearlong series of technical meetings with food industry leaders. Some popular products had already met these targets when the initiative began — a clear indication that the targets were achievable.

Full list of NSRI Packaged Food Targets (PDF)
Full list of NSRI Restaurant Food Targets (PDF)

NSRI Commitment Process

Participating companies agreed to “work toward meeting the NSRI targets” in specific food categories, “through a transparent, public process.” In addition:

  • Companies could make commitments in all or some of the categories in which they sold products. The NSRI encouraged companies to pursue as many targets as possible.
  • Each commitment indicated that a company was working to meet the NSRI target for a particular food category by a specified date. Companies could meet targets without eliminating all high-sodium products. The goal was to sell a mix of products that, when weighted for sales volume, had an average sodium level at or below the NSRI target.
  • The Health Department’s website publicly recognized companies that agree to work toward sodium-reduction targets.

The NSRI applauds the efforts made by restaurant, foodservice companies and packaged food companies to meet the NSRI targets. We encourage all restaurants and food companies to follow their example. If manufacturers and restaurants work together to reduce average sodium content, consumers will enjoy the health benefits without a noticeable difference in taste.


The NSRI assessed industry’s progress after each of the target years. As part of this assessment, the Health Department created two databases to track the nutrition information of food products. These databases were used to monitor salt content and to assess progress toward the NSRI sodium targets. Companies had an opportunity to report baseline information and provide updates, since changes may not be immediately apparent on food labels. Between 2009 and 2014, there was a 6.8% reduction in sodium levels in the food supply.

For more information about the NSRI sodium targets, email