New Proposed FDA Restaurant Labeling Regulations

By , SparkPeople Blogger
Last week the U.S. Food and Drug Administration released news of two proposed regulations related to calorie labeling. As part of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act passed into law last year, calorie and nutrition information in designated food establishments must be disclosed. Establishments with 20 or more locations doing business under the same name with nearly similar menu items will be effected by the new regulations. Since we already know nutrition calculations are derived from a variety of sources and serve more as an estimate then an exact number, can these new regulations really help us stay on track toward our goals?

One of the two proposed menu labeling rules will apply to fast service restaurants and casual dining establishments. They will also apply to non-traditional establishments such as coffee shops, bakeries, groceries, supermarkets, and convenience stores that sell food as well. However, movie theaters, airplanes, and bowling alleys that sell food but not as their primary focus of business will not have to abide by the proposed regulation. The proposed companion rule will apply to items sold in vending machines and require calorie information to be visible.

According to FDA Commissioner Margaret A. Hamburg, M.D., American's consume about one-third of their daily calories from foods prepared away from home. The new proposals are "designed to give consumers consistent and easy-to-understand nutrition information" when making selection away from home. These proposals attempt to apply the new law by:
  • Mandating calorie and specific nutrition information be clearly and prominently displayed on menus and menu boards. This would include menu boards on drive-through locations as well as individual foods on display.
  • Proposing inclusion of the following statement on menu boards regarding suggested daily calorie needs: “A 2,000 calorie diet is used as the basis for general nutrition advice; however, individual calorie needs may vary.”
  • Directing that detailed nutrition information must be made available and patrons made aware of their right to request that information.
  • Requiring nutrition information is posted on vending machines unless the package information is readily visible. This proposal applies to any operator that owns or operates 20 or more vending machines.
Once these proposed guidelines are implemented, state and local governments cannot impose different labeling requirements for restaurants, retail food establishments, or vending machine companies covered by these Federal requirements. The FDA desires public comment on the proposed rules between now and June 6, 2011. Final rules will be issued by the end of the year.

The Bottom Line
The outlined proposals are in line with the discussions surrounding the bill last year. Many restaurants like Panera are leading the way with calorie facts on menus and have been since the law first passed. It is surprising to find non-traditional establishments that also sell food such as airplanes, bowling alleys and movie theaters exempt from the new rules. However, these aren't really good choices when eating away from home anyway and other strategies are usually recommended.

When you are planning to eat away from home, here are a couple tips that will still be important even with the enactment of new labeling laws.
  • Do your homework before heading to your local restaurant. This will allow you plenty of time to review online information and tools to make thoughtful decisions that fit with the rest of your daily meal and snack plans instead of quick decisions that you might find later weren't as good for you personally as the menu board indicated.
  • Although you might be tempted to pick the middle or lower end of range that might go from 200-800 calories per serving, to be safe, simply use the top end. It will also be important to clarify the number of servings in the item you are served.
  • Since the FDA doesn't regulate alcohol, information about drinks will be exempt from these new rules. Since there are diet-friendly alcohol choices plan ahead and make nutrient and waistline wise choices.
Do you think these new rules will make a difference in your choices when eating away from home? Are you concerned that movie theaters, airplanes and bowling alleys are exempt?