Restaurant calorie counts are complex calculations
We’re all one step closer to knowing what we’re eating – caloriewise – before we order it. And the restaurant industry is one step closer to knowing how it’s supposed to inform us of that.
But it may be the middle of 2012 before any of us finally sits down at Olive Garden, open the menu and see that the calamari appetizer we’re about to order contains 890 calories – not including a dipping sauce.
Requirements that restaurant chains with 20 or more units show calorie counts on regular menus, menu boards and drive-through menus were contained in Section 4205 of the 2010 health care reform law. The provisions also said the Food and Drug Administration should issue proposed regulations for menu labeling no later than March 23, 2011.
The FDA released its first draft last summer, but the proposals drew such extensive comments that the agency withdrew them in January and said it would issue a new draft by March 23. But that wasn’t released until April 1.
Now, there’s another 60-day comment period in which the industry can express its objections, concerns and questions. It may need that much time, because the document is 810 pages long.
This time, however, the FDA went further to define what kinds of establishments do and do not have to comply with the requirements and how they should handle tricky issues like customized and combo orders.
What sounded simple – showing calorie counts on menus – obviously isn’t.
What businesses are included?
Chains of restaurants or similar retail food establishments with 20 or more locations, using basically the same name and selling basically the same food. An article in Nation’s Restaurant News says the rules would include chains of cafeterias, coffee shops, snack bars, ice cream parlors, bakeries and confectionary shops, convenience stores, grocery stores and vending machines.
What places are not affected?
Movie theaters, airplanes, bowling alleys and other places that sell food but not as the primary purpose of their business.
Where must calorie counts appear?
Besides menus, menu boards and drive-through menus, they would be required on take-out and delivery menus and on online menus, if customers use them in ordering. They would also be required beside foods on display or in self-serve areas such as salad bars. The signage must be clear and prominent, and easily readable.
What foods are exempt from menu labeling?
Daily specials, test-market items and ones on the menu fewer than 60 days a year. Calories for customized foods such as pizzas that people order to their specifications can be presented as ranges.
Ranges also can be used for combo items such as children’s meals, where customers can choose different sizes and beverages.
The FDA said it will take comments until June 6, and then it will write the final rules. That’s expected by the end of the year, and then businesses will have several more months to come into compliance.