On Friday, the Food and Drug Administration issued new guidelines requiring chain restaurants and other businesses that serve food to post information about calorie counts on menu and menu boards. Movie theaters, bowling alleys, airplanes and other ‘establishments’ for whom selling food is not the primary business would be exempt. For the time being, bars and restaurants serving wine, beer and alcoholic beverages would not have to post calories counts, as a different federal agency, the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, regulates them.
According to the Wall Street Journal, 278,600 establishments out of an estimated 600,000 restaurants nationwide would be affected by the new regulations at a cost of approximately $1,100 to each restaurant, says the FDA. The guidelines—which must be posted in a “clear and conspicuous” font size and in a color that is “at least as conspicuous as” as the print for the menu item—will not appear until next year:
Under the guidelines, which are subject to change, eateries would have to inform customers that other nutrition information is available on request, including calories from fat, total fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, trans fat, sodium, carbohydrates, sugars, dietary fiber and protein.
Calories would be disclosed on all menus and menu boards, including menu boards at drive-through locations, with the label “calorie” or “cal,” according to the rule. Calories for variable menu items, such as combo meals, would be displayed in ranges based on possible inclusions. For self-service foods like salad bars, calories would be listed per serving or per item on a sign next to the food.
Currently, some 20 states or cities have regulations requiring restaurants to post the calorie content of foods.
However, the jury is out as to whether posting calorie information for menu items helps in the fight against obesity. Says the Wall Street Journal:
A 2009 study published in the journal Health Affairs didn’t find evidence menu labeling influenced total calories purchased by New Yorkers. A Stanford University study of New York City Starbucks found average calories per transaction fell by 6% after calorie labeling started.
Others point out that food is food, and it makes little sense to regulate some restaurants while exempting movie theaters where, as the New York Times points out, a large bucket of popcorn with butter can contain 1,500 calories, almost as much as the 2,000 calories that an average person consumes a day.
If you knew how many calories were in those steak tacos at Qdoba, would you still eat them?
Photo of tacos from Qdoba by Shoshanah.