The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has finalized two regulations on calorie information listed on menus and menu boards in chain restaurants, as well as some other retail food establishments and vending machines. The regulations are part of the “2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.” Restaurants and other affected facilities have a year to implement the new regulations.
“Americans eat and drink about one-third of their calories away from home and people today expect clear information about the products they consume,” says FDA Commissioner Margaret A. Hamburg, M.D., in a news release. “Making calorie information available on chain restaurant menus and vending machines is an important step for public health that will help consumers make informed choices for themselves and their families.”
The menu labeling regulation is applicable to restaurants and retail food establishments if they are part of a chain of 20 or more locations, doing business under the same name, and which offer the same menu items. Calorie information must be clearly displayed next to the items. Seasonal menu items only offered temporarily are exempt from the requirements.
Under the similar 1990 Nutrition Labeling and Education Act, some large restaurants are already displaying calorie counts on menus, although they may have followed local or state regulations. The new federal standards will make calorie-labeling uniform across the United States.
More than 1,000 stakeholders and consumers commented on the proposed regulations before they were published. FDA regulators used their input to develop more complex ways of listing calories, such as having listings for a slice of pizza instead of a whole pie.
The regulations also apply to food served in establishments that serve food as well as alcoholic beverages as well as food areas in movie theaters and amusement parks.
Like labels on foods in grocery stores and other retail stores, the FDA is establishing 2,000 calories a day as “general nutrition advice,” the agency notes, but it is only a general guideline and “calorie needs vary” from person to person.
Besides calories, and also like food items purchased at stores, the FDA is mandating that menus contain information on total calories, total fat, calories from fat, saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, sodium, total carbohydrates, fiber, sugars, and protein.
Vending machine operators must list calorie counts on food sold in their machines, provided they operate 20 or more machines. They will have two years to comply with the regulations.