FDA rule to require chain restaurants to post calorie counts
M. Kaye Kramer glanced at the online menu before a family meal at Uno’s Chicago Grill a few weeks ago. She thought she knew what she wanted — until she checked the calorie count.
“That’s the problem,” said Kramer, an assistant professor of epidemiology and director of the Diabetes Prevention Support Center at the University of Pittsburgh. “You think (the grilled chicken) looks healthy until you look it up.”
The pizzeria is one of thousands affected by sweeping new regulations requiring calorie counts on menu items at chain restaurants, movie theaters, bakeries and coffee shops nationwide. The Food and Drug Administration announced the rules Tuesday.
Grocery stores with hot and cold food bars, takeout joints and vending machines are also subject to the rules, which date back to a little-publicized provision in President Obama’s health care law.
“I understand the reasons — the public needs to be protected, to be aware — but it definitely feels like the government is in your business in a big way,” said Kevin Joyce, owner of The Carlton restaurant Downtown and former president of the Pennsylvania Restaurant and Lodging Association.
Calorie information must be “clearly and conspicuously” displayed for standard items on menus and menu boards next to the name or price of the item, according to the rules. Seasonal foods, daily specials and condiments are exempt.
“It’s a 395-page document, so we haven’t gotten through the whole thing yet,” said Kevin O’Connell, Eat’n Park senior marketing vice president. “But it’s pretty consistent with the direction we were already heading.”
The local chain added a “lighter side” menu with calorie information years ago, he said, with additional nutritional information such as calories, fat content and ingredients, which is available online and at restaurants by request.
“People are more interested in what they’re eating these days, not only from a nutritional perspective, but in sourcing the food they eat,” O’Connell said. “We’re happy to provide that.”
The calorie-posting requirements apply only to chain establishments with 20 or more locations. Most have a year to comply; vending machine companies get two years.
FDA spokeswoman Jennifer Corbett Dooren said the agency has not drafted rules outlining enforcement procedures, including how it will make sure calorie counts are accurate. She said the information should be based on nutrient databases, cookbooks, laboratory analyses, nutrition facts labels or “other reasonable means.” Restaurants should be ready to provide the information to the FDA upon request, she said.
“I’m just glad I’m not a chain,” Joyce said. Chain establishments are better equipped to comply, he said. Menus are static, and when they change, alterations are often dictated by corporate officers. As a consumer, he sees the benefit, but as a restaurant owner, it’s a daunting prospect.
“We change our menu twice every day. If we had to stop every time and consult a calorie counter before we plated, we’d never get the food out,” Joyce said.
FDA Commissioner Margaret A. Hamburg estimated Americans eat and drink about one-third of their calories away from home.
Pitt’s Kramer harkened back to her recent visit to Uno’s, which posts calorie information in-store.
“People should be able to enjoy their meals and their food, but everything has to be balanced,” she said. “I really do feel a lot of people are just not aware of what they’re eating, and this could help.”
Megan Harris is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach her at 412-388-5815 or [email protected].