Restaurant Menus Will Be Required to List Calorie Counts, According to New FDA Regulations

Posted on 25 Nov 2014 23:29

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There has long been controversy concerning whether restaurant menus should be required to list the amount of calories their menu items contain. With today's push for healthy "low calorie" options, many restaurants, especially casual dining chains, have begun doing this voluntarily on at least part of their menus. Now, according to rules that some feel have been a long time coming, they won't have a choice. These rules will also affect movie theaters (your large buttered popcorn will give you nightmares), amusement parks, and vending machines. However, these rules won't actually apply to everyone.

The FDA, today, announced finalizing the new rules for menus and vending machine calorie labeling. These rules will be based on the traditional 2000 calorie diet, which, of course, doesn't fit everyone. The following statement will be used:

“2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice, but calorie needs vary.”

For now, the only thing required to be listed on the menus is the calorie count, which much be "clear and conspicuous." Other information, however, such as fats, sugar, sodium, etc. must be available upon request. The regulations came about as part of the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. There were many details and questions to work out before the rules could be finalized, such as just what types of food related business would be affected.

These labeling requirements for restaurants only apply to businesses with 20 or more locations, which do business under the same name and which offer pretty much the same menu items at each location, which the FDA describes as "offering substantially the same menu items." This will affect causal dining restaurants such as Applebees, TGI Fridays, Cheesecake Factory, Ruby Tuesday's, Bob Evans, Red Robin, Outback, Bonefish Grill, and many others; as well of course, all the major fast food chains. The rules, in other words, affect both quick-service restaurants and table dining restaurants. The word menu does not only apply to written menus that are handed out to customers, but menu boards, whether in fast food or any other establishments.

The calorie information will have to be listed alongside the menu item, so that it stands out and is obvious to the customer next to the name or the price. Daily specials, seasonal items, and condiments are exempt from these labeling rules.

The affected businesses have one year to comply with these new requirements, which will take affect on December 1, 2015.

According to the FDA, some states and localities, in addition to the large restaurant chains mentioned at the beginning who are doing so voluntarily, have already been doing their own forms of menu labeling, under their own requirements. This has meant that chain restaurants operating in many states or localities have had to meet different requirements in different locations, a hardship that is avoided by these new federal regulations.

Not all menu items are easily labeled. The FDA considered various situations, as well as over 1,100 comments from industry and consumers to help develop the rules. For example, although a pizza restaurant might sell whole pies, the calorie counts will be by the slice. Certain alcoholic beverages, when served in food establishments affected by the rules, will have to also have their calories listed, but there is some flexibility in how this is done.

This same menu labeling rule also covers movie theater concessions and amusement park concessions. As well, those who own or operate 20 or more food vending machines will have to disclose calorie information, with certain exceptions. Vending machine operators have been given two years to comply.

Around half of U.S. consumers' annual food budgets are spent on foods prepared outside the home. According to estimates, a third of our total calories come from those foods. Since overconsumption of calories is the primary cause of overweight or obesity, these new rules reflect the reality that people do not know, and routinely underestimate the calories in these foods.

Specific Types of Businesses Affected

In addition to amusement parks and movie theaters, food service facilities located within other entertainment venues such as bowling alleys, will be affected. Mall food outlets will also fall under these rules, including not only restaurants in mall food courts, but stand-alone cookie counters, ice cream shops, or any other such establishment.

Food services located within superstores will be included, such as the food outlets in membership shopping clubs, Walmart, and other chains.

Food take-out or delivery businesses like pizza delivery and takeout, as well as sub shops, Chinese take-out, etc. will be affected. Candy stores or "retail confectionery stores" will also

This same menu labeling rule also covers movie theater concessions and amusement park concessions. As well, those who own or operate 20 or more food vending machines will have to disclose calorie information, with certain exceptions. Vending machine operators have been given two years to comply.

What is Restaurant-Like Food?

Restaurant-like food, according to the new rules, are foods that are usually eaten on the premises, while walking away, or soon after arriving at another location. This may cause some confusion among consumers, so the FDA has provided examples of foods that generally wold be considered restaurant-type food, and examples of foods that generally would not be considered restaurant-type food. Foods unlike restaurant-type foods, or what we would normally considered grocery-type items, are foods that consumers usually store to use later, or subject to further preparation before consuming. The following table provides specific examples of both.

Foods That Generally Would Be Considered Restaurant-Type Food Foods that Generally Would Not Be Considered Restaurant-Type Food
Food for immediate consumption at a sit-down or quick service restaurant Certain foods bought from bulk bins or cases (e.g., dried fruit, nuts) in grocery stores
Food purchased at a drive-through establishment Foods to be eaten over several eating occasions or stored for later use (e.g., loaves of bread, bags or boxes of dinner rolls, whole cakes, and bags or boxes of candy or cookies)
Take-out and delivery pizza; hot pizza at grocery and convenience stores that is ready to eat; pizza slice from a movie theater Foods that are usually further prepared before consuming (e.g., deli meats and cheeses)
Hot buffet food, hot soup at a soup bar, and food from a salad bar Foods sold by weight that are not self-serve and are not intended solely for individual consumption (e.g., deli salads sold by unit of weight such as potato salad, chicken salad), either prepacked or packed upon consumer request
Foods ordered from a menu/menu board at a grocery store intended for individual consumption (e.g., soups, sandwiches, and salads)
Self-service foods and foods on display that are intended for individual consumption e.g., sandwiches, wraps, and paninis at a deli counter; salads plated by the consumer at a salad bar; cookies from a mall cookie counter; bagels, donuts, rolls offered for individual sale)

What is a "Location?"

Since the new labeling requirements are required for certain food establishment "locations," consumers may wonder what constitutes a location. A location is any business with a fixed position or site. This means that, for example, airplanes or trains serving food are not covered under these rules, as they are not serving food in a fixed location or site.

What Does "Under the Same Name" Mean?

The rules apply to business operating 20 or more locations under the same name. This means exactly what it sounds like. It does not matter how these business locations are owned, whether corporate or franchise. If the name of the businesses that is presented to the public is the same name for all locations, the rules apply. If a specific name is not presented to the public, such as a company operating many concession stands, then the parent entity of the establishment is considered the name.

What Is "Offering Substantially the Same Menu Items?"

The rules state that businesses operating 20 or more locations under the same name are affected, but these locations must be offering substantially the same menu items. This means that a significant proportion of the menu items use the same general recipe and are prepared in substantially the same way with substantially the same food components. This applies EVEN if the NAME of the menu item varies. When menu items appear that are not routinely included on the menu, for whatever reason, they are not covered by the rules.

The requirements do not effect, therefore, daily specials, temporary menu items, custom orders, and food that is part of a customary market test. It also does not effect self-service food and food on display that is offered for sale for less than a total of 60 days per calendar year or fewer than 90 consecutive days in order to test consumer acceptance.

The rule also exempts alcohol beverages that are food on display and are not self-service food, such as bottles of liquor behind the bar used to prepare mixed drinks.

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