Many weight conscious Americans keep track of their caloric intake when at home; however, when they dine out, they often have no clue regarding how many calories they consume. On November 25, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) published the results of a study addressing caloric intake in restaurants and steps the agency the agency is making to increase public awareness. It has issued two final rules requiring that mandate that calories be listed on certain menus in chain restaurants and other establishments selling restaurant-type food, as well as on certain vending machines.
“Americans eat and drink about one-third of their calories away from home,” explained FDA Commissioner Margaret A. Hamburg, M.D. She added, “These final rules will give consumers more information when they are dining out and help them lead healthier lives.” The new FDA menu requirements will take effect in one year for restaurants; they apply to restaurants and similar retail food facilities that: are a component of a chain with 20 or more locations; that are doing business under the same name; offer basically the same menu items; and sell “restaurant-type” food.
Specifically, the FDA rules cover: sit-down and fast-food restaurants, bakeries, and coffee shops, as well as restaurant-type foods in certain grocery and convenience stores; take-out and delivery foods, such as pizza; foods purchased at drive-through windows; foods that you serve yourself from a salad or hot-food bar; alcoholic beverages such as cocktails when they appear on menus; and foods at entertainment facilities such as movie theaters. The vending machine rules will become effective in two years; they affect vending machines if their operator owns or operates 20 or more such machines. At present, caloric information is not always visible before items are purchased and removed from vending machines. Under the new rule, the calories will be visible on the front of the package or on a sign or sticker near the food or selection button.
Some food items are not covered under the rule; they include: foods sold at deli counters and typically intended for more than one person; bottles of liquor displayed behind a bar; food in transportation vehicles, such as food trucks, airplanes, and trains; and food on menus in elementary, middle, and high schools that are part of US Department of Agriculture school feeding programs (however, vending machines in these locations are covered).
The FDA requires that calorie information on menus and menu boards must be clearly displayed. The calorie count cannot be in smaller type than the name or price of the menu item (whichever is smaller). For salad bars and buffets, caloric information must be displayed on signs near the foods. To aid consumers in fitting the calorie information into the context of their total daily diet, the mandate requires the following reminder to be included on menus and menu boards: “2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice, but calorie needs vary.”
Menus and menu boards will inform consumers that they may ask for additional written nutrition information that will include total calories, calories from fat, total fat, saturated fat, trans-fat, cholesterol, sodium, total carbohydrates, sugars, fiber and protein. The information may be derived from nutrient databases, cookbooks, laboratory analyses, the Nutrition Facts label, and other sources.