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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?

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I think this is awesome. There are tines I am away from home longer then I expected and I did not go out prepared. Having the nutritional info displayed will help me make wise choices that I probably would not have. I have seen this already in some restaurants and my eyes were open to some of the bad choices I had made in the past that I thought wee good ones. As for the movie theater not having it...it doesn't matter to me, we don't eat at the theater, we usually go out before or after anyways. However, since a lot of teens eat out at the movies and bowling alleys they should be regulated to post the information. Obesity in our children is rising and it would help our children to be able to make smart food choices if the nutritional info was displayed. Not very many teen will ask for the information because it might be considered embarrassing to do so in front of their peers, but if it was right there in plan sight, they could make healthy choices, without the embarrassment. Report
It is great news. With obesity being such a problem now days, our schedules so busy eating out is often a necessity, I think this is a fantastic. I for one love it when nutrition values are printed on menus. It truly helps make wise decisions I otherwise may not have made. I do not feel the government is interfering! I feel they are doing something to encourage better health for all of us. Obviously we are not aware of alot of poor choices we make, or choose to simply ignore better choices. YEA for the FDA and thanks for caring. With our health care choices at risk, especially for seniors, this is an important decision. Report
It took government intrusion just to get nutrition facts on the foods we eat everday. I think this is a great idea.
I once went into a Friday's and asked what was in the artichoke dip and the waitress actually told me I was better off not knowing !!!
Anyway I am all for it, and any restaurant wanting to keep patrons will follow through. I try to research before I get to a place, or if I can't I ask questions of the wait staff and try to make an informed decision from there.
Boy this will be a big help. So tired of trying to figure out how many calories are in what Im eating at restaurants and vending machines. I know Ill make better choices now. Im not crazy about government intervention, but this is finally a really good idea. Report
I know it will affect my behavior - I was recently at a Chili's restaurant at JFK and seeing the calories of each item (including some fairly high numbers for "salads") caused me to make another choice. I am not crazy about government regulation but this is a good idea. Report
Yes, it's a great idea. I have chosen one restaurant over another just because they post nutritional information. I used Sparkpeople to count calories and control my eating. KNOWING helped me to drop 10kg. Report
I love that this has taken effect. I can make more informed choices. I wish there was not a criteria that had to be met before they had to show nutritional information. Report
I can't wait for this to take effect!! Report
I agree with restaurants posting nutritional values on menus. I think it's a great idea! I saw someone say that restaurants are probably afraid to put up the content info because then some people would realize the crap they're putting into their bodies, then in turn, won't eat certain things (or anything!). That's a good point, & is probably the case, but oh well! Sucks for them! Maybe their owners need to rethink & make some healthier choices..truly healthier choices. Report
yeah I don't understand why politics has to rear its ugly head again ( I hear enough of it up here in Canada - ELECTION TIME) I DO think its a good idea to have nutritional info (especially Calories fat and SODIUM). I think some restaraunts balk at the idea because I think if you could see the garbage you were about to order you likely would NOT. Report
When I went to a restaurant in NYC, they had all of the calorie counts on their menus, including alcohol...and I loved it! I think it's necessary because not everyone is on Sparkpeople and not everyone does research into how many calories they are really eating. It may be an eye opener!
I think that there should also be calorie counts on movie snacks because there are a ton of calories in that stuff. I think it's more important even than restaurant meals because people usually have more calories to spare going out for a meal. But to eat three full meals a day and then unknowingly get a 1,000 calorie "snack" at the movies?! People may not even know how many calories that "snack" is really worth! Report
Lots and lots of people bringing politics in to this (which is kind of redic seeing that this is sparkpeople and not a news site).

But the fact is that you are most likely here because as a child, you were raised on unhealthy food. If you were a child of the 80s, like me, you were raised in restaurants, movie theaters, bowling alleys, etc. My family didn't know what a happy meal a week could do to a child. Nor did they fully understand how much salt and additives are put in to a sit-down meal. It's led to an obesity crisis that has obviously affected the majority of us here.

20 years later, we smart consumers know how to research these things, but there are some families who still live on happy meals, instant mac, and vending machines as a means of feeding their children and themselves. Check out grocery store distribution maps when it comes to those families living in poverty or single parent households. Their children and forced to rely on the Popeyes down the road for dinner and a 7/11 for lunch because their single mom cant afford to drive 4 or 5 miles to a grocery store after a long shift. If these parents can look at a menu in passing and see the calorie info to make better choices for themselves and their children- then this bill is worth it.

This bill isn't forcing them to eat better. It's not forcing them to buy healthy meals for their children. What it is doing is making restaurants more accessible to those of us who do want to eat healthier. And plus, the cost to update the menus is so minimal for larger chains. Most places, like TGIFridays or Applebees already update their menu every three or four months. And this does not effect small business (for those of you so concerned on what this may cost them...ugh). This only effects restaurants and chains with 20 OR MORE LOCATIONS. Report
I think it is great to label the nutrition facts. Every restaurant should be made to do this. I believe people would make different choices, if the could see, fats, sodium, sugar, contents. I love to eat out, and I would make better choices. I don't eat in fast food places. Report
I am envious of California and New York, where the nutrition facts are available at most restaurants. I'd love to have this in New England! I'm all for the bill. I don't think I'd care much about airplane or bowling alley food nutrition facts, but I'd definitely like to see the movie theaters provide it. Report
I think the more information is made available the better - you can ignore it if you don't want it, but I always pay attention. I like knowing in advance what I'm about to consume so I can alter my choices accordingly if I so choose. I don't think the government is interfering with anything by making this mandatory; since restaurants obviously will not provide it unless they are forced to, I'm happy to see the gov't make them do it. I just want this info available to me! Report
As someone who is constantly on the goal between school and work. I don't always have time to do the research that is necessary to know what I can and can't have. Since I am doing weight watchers, I am always trying to stay alert to my points and this would make it easier. I also think it should apply to school cafeterias, as there is no nutritional information made available at my college to allow me to know what I am eating. Report
I have to say that I LOVE it when even just calories are posted on a menu, like Panera does. If you want the complete counts and only the calories are posted, they have them in a binder that you can look at. And Applebees has several items that have Weight WAtchers points, plus a bunch that are under 500 calories, and the selection is getting better all the time. We were planning on meeting someone for dinner at Don Pablo's and I researched online to find the best options, only to find when we got there that it had closed. So I was stuck with taking a wild guess at TGI Fridays - not good!

I disagree with the posters who say that people watching their intake should know what is healthy and what isn't. Restaurant versions have a lot of hidden add-ins that we don't normally do at home and that change the calorie content tremendously. And items that are healthy at one restaurant, like tomato soup, can be horrendously high in calories and fat in another. I've changed what I eat because of what I can read on the board or online.

As far as making it required by law? Yes, I can find info online now for SOME restaurants, but definitely not the majority. And what about the times I'm "caught out" in mid-day and need to go to a restaurant/fast-food outlet unexpectedly? I'm leery of more government intrusion, but I agree that if it's not required, most businesses won't do it. And if the 20+ chains are forced into it, I suspect that many of the smaller businesses will follow suit after finding that the customers like it. Report
What we really need is a new category on food labels -- amount of ADDED SUGAR! Milk has naturally occurring sugar and if you look on the food label, it will tell you how many grams of sugar per serving. But they don't add sugar to milk. I need to know how much sugar is ADDED to a food! Report
Few companies will voluntarily post or provide information. I think this is a step in the right direction. I think it needs to go beyond mere caloric content. Movie theaters etc should be included; they can provide flyers for folks to read. Some restaurants feature chicken or fish dishes supposedly healthier but the additional ingredients take it to the stratosphere.

If we don't want micromanaging, then ALL companies should be eager to provide their customers with tools to evaluate their products. The pure-profit motive is sad. As someone posted, most companies would not include nutrition info on labels unless required to do so by law. The US is concerned about weight and obesity, hence, the law makes sense.

this is awesome, I have been seeing the calorie contents on items at Starbucks, Dunkin Donuts, and it has made me say NO, which is something I am not good at, but when calories are in the 500 range for one item even I can decide against it. Report
I'm not for big government, and not everyone needs to be concerned with calories. Carbs and fat content matter more to me. Report
Generally, I am of the opinion "The less government the better". With food, however, I am happy to have some guidelines for nutrition labeling.

I had to think long and hard about it, but then I realized that when I eat at home I have those labels on everything I prepare (fruits, veggies and raw meats I can do by weight), so why not when I go out to eat?

I am Diabetic, and when I go out to eat I always have to guess, "How many Carbs?" before I take an Insulin injection. I have become a pretty good guesser based on portion sizes, but occasionally when I get home I'll find I was 4-5 units of Insulin short.

I've been Diabetic now for 27 years, starting out with reduced pancreas production of Insulin, then increased Insulin resistance, now to Insulin dependent. When I became Insulin dependent, I researched the affect of Insulin and found a reference to "tight control". I spoke to my Endocrinologist and he hesitated to let me go to "tight control" because so many Diabetics said they would keep tight control, only to drop off almost completely after 6 months or so because they wouldn't test enough or figure their Insulin requirements. Sticking yourself 8 times a day (minimum) IS a total drag, but my step-dad was an out-of-control Diabetic and I knew the problems with disease and sores and amputations, etc. The day I took him to the doctor to check on a non-healing lesion and the doctor pushed the prob completely through his foot totally convinced me!

I have kept tight control and for the past 8 years my A1c result have averaged 5.9 - technically, normal, and not rated diabetic.

I have no problems with wounds that do not heal (they used to heal overnight, but at 65 - I'm slower in a lot of things). I don't have any diabetic retinopathy and just a little bit of neuropathy in a couple of toes.

That's why 'I' am happy about the nutrition requirements.

Staying healthy will be even easier to keep track of (BTW, I plan on living to at least 85, so it will help me get at least 20 more years). Report
In general, I believe that government regulation should be at the bare minimum. Someone else mentioned a nanny state and I agree with them that we don't want that.. I take full responsibility for what I eat. I eat out quite a lot, but try to do so wisely. I ask how things are prepared and I make special requests for how my food is cooked. Most of the restaurants that I go to are happy to accommodate. I also find that more and more of my favorite restaurants are trying to voluntarily make nutritional information available, because they know their customers appreciate it and make choices based on this information. When I dine out, I most often choose places that do this, and I know plenty of others who choose restaurants for the same reason. I think these restaurants will be more successful in the long run.
The market will encourage more restaurants to provide this information and we will have more and more alternatives without the government having to add more regulations, which always cost us more money, both as customers and taxpayers. Report
I applaud the thought behind this regulation, although I would also ask what happened to consumers exercising self-restraint in portion control? As for the comment about 'national chains', remember that this regulation would only require 20 stores being operated in a chain (so regional operations, and not only national ones, would be affected).

I find most of my information about calories/fat content/etc. here on Sparkpeople. I fail to see why we need some 'nannystate' laws to protect people from choices that they will more likely continue to make - even with the new information. The main persons I see impacted by this regulation are the companies involved in getting new signs/menus/whatever made (both the restaurant and the company making signs/menus) and the trial lawyers...
My $0.02.
We're already seeing calories posted on menus here in Los Angeles County. And I've changed my choice based on the posted calories. So, yes, I think the system will have an impact. Report
I am totally for this bill, as knowing what the nutrition content of the food you are eating when away from home could end up saving our health care system money down the road via better choices being made. I have a family member who is required to travel regularly and gets stuck eating out where this is little choice and sometimes fast food establishments are the only choice. Knowing the calorie content among various items on a menu would help this person stick to the healthy eating plan that they adhere to at home while on the road. Also, it is interesting that there is some opinion out there that it is okay for the government to control and be involved in women's health issues but not in the overall health of our country. Report
I am concerned with the cost monetarily and in time to smaller food providers. I am concerned with the expense of monitoring these proposals by "our" government. Cannot the diner who chooses to eat food prepared by others away from home simply limit portion size that is eaten? If a diner is concerned about calories, he probably already has some knowledge of foods that contain higher amounts and how he feels after eating them: fats/oils, sauces, sugars. So choices can be made accordingly without obsessing about a specific caloric number.

I feel it would be more beneficial to have any GMO's, if served, labeled as such. This is something that affects our health and that we cannot know by observation or experience. I would prefer to ban all GMOs from restaurant fare and Monsanto's food chain as humans are not able to digest GMO's as usual. Europe has taken the lead in this. Report
I feel that consumers have right and a need to know this information. On the menu, or a separate paper is ok. I go to websites also. It is however more convenient if it is right in front of you on the menu.

Some people travel alot, like my brother, and therefore eat out alot. It would defintely make eating right alot easier for them. Report
I think it is a good idea and I really don't worry about movie theaters, airplanes and bowling alleys being exempt. Their food is usually overpriced so I don't frequent these places too often. Report
I"m frugal so I don't eat out much. Report
I love the fact we will have a nutrient list for everything in the future. We NEED it desperately. Course , have to say alot of Americans are not going to care. ME, I CARE....I like to know just how many calories PLUS I am injesting! Report
We don't eat out often, so when we do, it's a splurge anyway, so we don't pay attention to any calorie numbers. And come on now, how stupid do they think people are? We all know whether we are ordering something not healthy when we go out to eat, and, judging from people we see, they don't give one Fig about the calories or fats either. The government entities need to keep on functioning, so they need to do this type of busy work to keep their jobs. Back when I was very overweight, I brought my food to the restaurant, and ordered coffee or a small side salad, I knew those things were "safe". If a person is really worried about what they can eat, just bring your own stuff with you, diabetics do it all the time. That's just the way it is. Report
I'm concerned that movie theaters and alcoholic beverages are exempt. Most people get something at the theater and everyone knows that the main way theaters make money is not through the ($15) tickets but through the ($15) popcorn. Report
I don't really care if they post it in the restaurant or not but I need to be able to get that information somewhere - either a handout I can ask for or their website. I enter everything that I eat into the nutrition tracker and I need to have that info. Report
I think this is good for some people, but for myself, it is actually very scary. Because for me, counting calories has been obsessive and eating out at a restaurant scares me half to death. I am currently in Recovery for anorexia and my fear is that now, when I do go to a restaurant, it will be very easy for me to pick the lowest calorie item, rather than pick something that my body truly wants and needs. I think it is a step in the right direction for a lot of people, but for me, I am not sure whether or not I will be able to appreciate it. :/ Report
@ Britomart -
I couldn't agree with you more. It seems labeling is still all about the numbers with no regard to whether those ingredients are actual food or cheap manufactured fillers. Report
I think this is a great step forward! I rarely eat out, but when I do, I look up nutritional facts and portions sizes ahead of time. I've even contacted the corporate HQ of one of my favorite restaurants to send me nutritional info - and they did send me an Excel spreadsheet with EVERYTHING. It will be nice to have the info more convenient to find in restaurants. Report
The government really needs to stay out of this. That's all I'll say about that part, because I just get so angry about the current state of things that the gov't is trying to control...

Requiring restaurants to post nutrition info on the drive thru menus? The costs of changing all those menu boards is astronomical! And guess who'll reap those "benefits"? Yep, the consumers by paying higher prices for the same crap.

And let's get real here - if you're paying $1-$2 per item at a fast food joint, what do you REALLY expect that you're putting in your mouth? Anyone who's really eating healthy knows that whole foods cost a little more than processed foods -right? If you're paying $1 for a double cheeseburger... um, there's nothing good for you in THAT!

If you want the nutritional info, ask for it. If the employees at the business can't tell you what's in the food, don't eat it! Report
Excellent! I rarely go out to eat at restaurants that don't let you know the nutrition info. And I usually try to check out the menu on-line before I go. Report
I too believe the government should stay out of our business!!! Report
I live in California where there has been a nutrition menu along with the regular menu for sometime. I've gotten so used to it that I don't know what to do when I go into a restaurant that doesn't offer the info. When I see the calorie count for the choices I USED to make I am almost embarrassed........I love being able to make an informed choice. Having the calorie counts right on the menu is terrific! Report
Simply put, I think we, as consumers, have a right to know what we're eating. If it's required of foods we buy in a store, the same should go for restaurants. Report
They still serve food on airplanes ??? When I've flown to Europe, I was served dinner and breakfast. While it wasn't the greatest meal, it was definitely portion controlled. So, I wasn't worried about the calories. Even the cute little bottles of wine were portion controlled. Now, you could get McDonalds catered if you were willing to pay extra. In which case, you get what you pay for. LOL !!!

I'm not particularly worried that airline food isn't subject to nutrition labels. They serve so little anyway. but, that's a complaint for another blog.

As for bowling alleys, it's not like I'm expecting gourmet meals there either. If I go bowling, I figure I'll be eating typical munchie type snacks. Report
We read all the time about how many calories we can take in at the movies. I absolutely believe they should be included. Report
I'm a bit baffled by all the commenters who say that government intrusion into this issue is not necessary, since restaurants "should" respond to consumers' desire for information and post this information of their own accord. Okayyy ... so where and when have you actually seen that happen? Very rarely.

Restaurants that operate nationwide already have to have that information available in some locations, and yet they don't choose to make it available (at little or no extra expense) at any location at which it's not required. Yes, we as consumers should be free to choose what we eat, and if we choose to eat junk, then that's our choice. But an uninformed choice is no choice at all. Without knowing the content of food, we cannot make reasonable, informed choices about our food, our bodies, and our health.

Do you think that food manufacturers would put ingredients and nutrition labels on supermarket items if they weren't required by law? Yet how many of us who are health-conscious would want to shop and cook without that information? Any cost "savings" for businesses not required to give consumers a reasonable amount of information about their food will be offset by the cost (both literal and figurative) to those very consumers of unknowingly consuming foods that they wouldn't otherwise choose for themselves. Report
I won't eat at a restaurant that doesn't at least post it's menu & calories on line or offer a few low cal options. It means eating at home a lot, but that's cheaper anyway. Report
It's a very good idea for restaurants and other food purveyors to do this VOLUNTARILY; however I am leery of yet another government intrusion into businesses. If the restaurants are smart, they should be cognizant of how much this would help people who are concerned about food nutritional content. Report
Keep big brother out of our lives!

We all make personal choices concerning what we eat. If a business wants to post nutritional information on its products, health consious consumers will flock to this establishment because they will know what they are getting. If a business does not post the information, don't go there! If the food is so unhealty you probably wouldn't go there anyway.

Increasing government regulation will just add costs to doing business. Report
I think the numbers will help us make better choices, and those choices will affect the choices the food industry gives us. When possible, I go online to restaurants and make my choices before heading out to meet friends.

Still, I remain a bit wary of the numbers they give us. Don't understand the tip about the calorie range being 200-800 calories? Update: Funny, the day I wrote this, I went to a Chipotle that listed a calorie range, and realized the calories depend on the ingredients you select. Report
I love eating at places with this posted, because then I have an idea of what I am consuming rather than going at it blind. Even though some menu options may seem healthier than others, they aren't always. Report
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