FDA Unveils New Calorie Count Menu Requirements- California Healthline

On November 24, 2014, FDA announced new rules that will require restaurants to place calorie counts on their menus, the New York Times reports.

The rules, which were called for under the Affordable Care Act, will apply to restaurants with at least 20 locations, as well as vending machines, amusement parks, movie theaters and prepared foods in grocery and convenience stores intended to feed one individual.

They will also apply to alcoholic beverages, which had not been included when the rules were originally proposed. Specifically, restaurants must list calorie counts for drinks that appear on their menus. Mixed alcoholic drinks served at restaurants’ bars will not be subject to the rules (Tavernise/Strom, New York Times, 11/24).

The rules will not apply to:

  • Ice cream trucks;
  • Food served on airplanes; or
  • Food trucks (Tracy, Wall Street Journal, 11/24).

In addition to the calorie requirements, the rules will mandate that affected businesses provide nutritional information like calories from fat, cholesterol, protein and sugars upon request (Clarke/Athavaley, Reuters, 11/24).

According to the National Restaurant Association, more than 200,000 restaurants will have to comply with the requirements (Wall Street Journal, 11/24). Most of the rules are scheduled to take effect next year, but vending machine owners will have until 2016 to comply.

Rules Will Address Obesity, Advocates Say

Advocates say the new requirements will help to stem obesity in the U.S. Center for Science in the Public Interest Director of Nutrition Policy Margo Wootan said the requirements are “one of the most important public health nutrition policies ever to be passed nationally” (New York Times, 11/24).

FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg added, “While no single action can fix the obesity problem, the step we’re taking today … is a really important one for public health.” According to FDA, U.S. residents get about one-third of the calories they consume at places outside of their homes (Wall Street Journal, 11/24).

Rules Expected To Face Challenges

The rules likely will face both political and legal challenges, according to the Times. For example, supermarket and convenience store owners could challenge the prepared food requirements. The National Grocers Association noted that supermarkets “are not chain restaurants, which is why Congress did not initially include them in the law.” The group added, “We are disappointed [FDA’s] final rules will capture grocery stores and impose such a large and costly regulatory burden on our members” (New York Times, 11/24). According to the Food Marketing Institute, grocery stores will have to spend more than $1 billion to comply with the rules during the first year, and hundreds of millions of dollars in subsequent years (Wall Street Journal, 11/24).

Further, some restaurants have said it will be difficult for them to comply with the rules because their menus offer customizable options that could have varying calorie counts. For example, the pizza chain Domino’s noted that consumers can pick from a potential 34 million different pizza combinations. While the chain already discloses calorie counts when customers order online, it would be difficult for the restaurant to print all possible calories counts on an in-store menu.

FDA Could Provide Flexibility

According to The Hill, FDA could provide some flexibility in such instances, like allowing restaurants to list calorie counts for the basic foods they sell, such as a cheese pizza, and counts for additional toppings that customers can use to calculate calorie totals on their own (Devaney, The Hill, 11/24). The rules will also allow pizza calories to be listed by slice, instead of for the entire item (Jalonick, AP/U-T San Diego, 11/24). In addition, the rules will exempt seasonal menu items, daily food specials and standard condiments (Reuters, 11/24).