By late November 2015 chain restaurants must comply with new federal food labeling rules that inform consumers about nutritional values of prepared food. While many states and cities already impose food labeling requirements for served food, the Food and Drug Administration regulations offer uniformity to restaurants nationwide. Restaurant chains like McDonald’s have already posted some calorie information on menu boards and eateries in California have included calorie information per dish on menus for years.
Many seemingly simple dishes can be loaded with hidden calories, so health experts hope the easy availability of calorie information will help consumers make healthy choices and combat the country’s obesity problem. The new regulations were part of the Affordable Care Act of 2010 and government officials have been drafting the rules and considering thousands of comments for more than four years. The final rules were published Nov. 24 in the Federal Register, the government journal, according to an FDA press release.
From the outset restaurants have to inform consumers that a normal daily diet contains on average 2,000 calories. Regulations dictate that calories are to be calculated on a single serving so as to be most informative. For example calorie data from a single slice of pizza – not the whole pie – is considered one serving. The sweeping regulations are intended to inform the public and cast a wide net of compliance over eating establishments where prepared food is available.
What Are The Rules?
Since Americans consume about one-third of their daily calorie intake outside the home, the FDA drafted rules to disclose the nutritional content of food and drinks. Consumers are interested in knowing how many calories are in a drink or meal, but don’t always have access to the data. Seeing that a fast-food milkshake has 750 calories might deter some purchases, but at least consumers will know how many calories they are consuming. It is expected that the disclosure of the information might help Americans to trim their waist lines.
Restaurants must disclose the following information per serving:
- Post calories of servings on menus and menu boards including for alcoholic beverages.
- Have available in written form more detailed nutritional information like calories from fat, total fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, carbohydrates, fiber, sugars and protein.
Who Has To Comply?
Small businesses are excluded from the regulations, which only apply to restaurant chains with more than 20 locations that operate under the same name and have similar menus.
The regulations apply to sit-down establishments, food purchased through a drive-thru window, take-out food including sandwiches sold at a grocery store or hot dogs and frozen drinks at a convenience store.
As well the rules affect owners of vending machines, salad bars in restaurants and grocery stores, bakery items sold at coffee shops, movie theaters, and amusement park snacks and ice cream, milk shakes and sundaes sold at ice cream stores.
Restaurant groups have complained that the regulations will be expensive and difficult to observe. Food can vary in ingredients like the myriad of pizza toppings or burgers with extra cheese that can widely vary calorie counts. The restaurant industry has said it would have to pass on costs to the consumer. Health groups argue it’s worth the expense, especially if Americans overall lose weight and become healthier.
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