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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 mostly eat at places that have the information if they do not t is easy to turn round and walk out. If it can be done for a few states it can be done for all of the restaurant industry. This is just a cop out and after all they are selling food, I want to know what is in that food. MUCH BETTER to make it yourself it is much safer that way you know your produce is clean if you wash it yourself. Report
I think the new rules are awesome! I'm happy that they'll soon be implemented! Report
I live in New York City and the calorie postings have really been eye opening. Who knew that a muffin at the coffee shop could contain 800 calories? The numbers on items at the movie theater have been jaw-dropping -- there were two day's calories in a "movie meal". I am all for this new law. It's changed what I eat when I get breakfast or a snack on the run. Report
There are always rules to follow and again, no matter what is put out on labels, containers and cans, it's up to us to be proactive in reading what's available. IT makes a difference however we are to be the difference! Whoo, hoo! Report
It will help some make wiser choices but not all many already read labels before buying. I think the bowling alleys and theathers should have it or a place to researched it. I read most labels or do the reacheach online before hand but if not possible i use my smart phone to do it before ordering. Report
Since it has become abundantly clear that much restaurant and fast food is packed with unhealthy levels of unhealthy ingredients, something needs to be done. I'm not sure providing information is the only good way to do it.

Personally, I think it's about time companies producing "food" should be held accountable for what they include in it. Claiming bread is 'high fiber' when, instead of the grains' naturally occurring bran, the stuff is full of inulin or other non-naturally-occurring stuff is unethical (not to mention uncomfortable).

As long as nutritional information is only a numbers game, we are still being cheated of healthy, tasty, HONEST food. Report
I believe that restaurants have been killing us without us knowing it! I think it is time to stand up and take notice of what we eat! If we are educated about our diets, then the responsibility will be in our own hands, like it should be. Report
Yes, more information the better. Report
Generally, I am not a fan of government dictating how business owners should run their private businesses, so I'm not particularly in favor of this regulation. Report
This is already implemented in California where I live. I like it and have no problem with it. There are times when I just don't care and eat what I want anyways and other times when its nice to know. At least I am not sneaked atack and aware that I maybe eating a 1000 calorie meal when I only thought it was 500. It helps me be healthier and make my right choices. Things we eat at home can be quite different in calorie range then at a restarant once they ad sugar and other ingredients. It doesn't affect restarants business from what i see here in California. Report
I would rather these businesses do it of their own accord, as I would rather not have the government dictating things like this. However, the sad fact is that many establishments just REFUSE to do so, no matter how many people request it.

Personally I know one particular popular chain who myself and many others have questioned about this on their Facebook page, and they insist that they can't provide the info because their menu changes too often, and it varies regionally. First of all, the regional variation is a lie, I've been to this restaurant in different areas and there is no difference. Second of all, this chain manages to provide nutrition information in New York City, because it is required to by local law, and yet they can't take that same information and make it available on the internet.

I think restaurants are afraid people will not eat there if they know the truth...the fact is, most restaurants have at least a few healthy dishes, what is the harm in letting people know so they can choose them if they want to, or at least know how to budget their calories if they want to splurge? Report
I love love love the idea of requiring restaurants to make access to nutritional information more readily available! I try not to eat out much anyway, but when I do, I think this would give me more options because I won't be restricted to only the restaurants that currently make such info accessible. It's really eye-opening when you first discover just HOW bad-for-you some entrees are! I think this is great, and I don't mind that certain establishments are exempt since I wouldn't be eating there anyway. Report
My question is this....how do we know that what they are putting on there as the calories, fat, salt etc. is even correct? I appreciate that they are being forced to do this, because they would not do it on their own. For many people these numbers are the difference between life and death. Oh and before I came to SparkPeople I had no idea how many calories I ate in a day, because of them I have lost weight, have better health and move a whole lot more. I love SparkPeople! Report
This news made me so hot under the collar that I momentarily forgot my username to sign in! The first thing is that this was yet another thing slipped into the "bill" the printing of which, for those who mostly chose not to read it before voting on it, probably made more waste than my county's recycling center sees in a year! I totally agree with APPLEPIEDREAMS that consumers have long been able to make their preferences known to companies and can and should continue to do so, including demanding needed information to make good health decisions. The micromanaging of any government entity just angers me to no end! Those of us who choose to use the brains the Good Lord gave us don't need it and those who don't yet know how to use those brains should be encouraged by loving friends & family to do so.

One more point to ponder: Who wants to wait behind a counter at a movie theater while those ahead of them read the "nutrition" information on high fat & calorie snack foods?

Wow, I feel so much better now. I'll be warming up for my "feedback" to the FDA tomorrow. Report
While I enjoy easy access to nutrition information, I think it's totally ridiculous that the government is micromanaging private businesses. Restaurants should be doing these things because their clients are requesting it, not because the government is making a bunch of laws. Report
I think this a good idea, not only for people who are health conscience or trying to lose weight, but also for people with medical problems. My mother has issues with her heart, so she needs to watch her sodium. My brother and uncle have type 1 diabetes. It really limits our options when we go out to eat. Report
Oh and I forgot to add about Panera--although they have the nutrition information available, they have very little that is actually what I would call healthy if you take into account the sodium which is ridiculously high on most of their menu items even if the calories and fat are not.
I think this is great. Many restaurants already have the information available and I'm always surprised at chain restaurants that don't have any--we unfortunately chose to go to Bravo a couple of weeks back and when I inquired about healthy choices, the waiter was clueless (he actually suggested something that had a butter sauce as the lowest calorie option) and when I emailed the company, their response was less than satisfactory, just giving "general guidelines" as to what to choose, which I can do for myself!Anyway, I generally won't go to a restaurant that does not have nutrition information (and I'm sure I'm not the only one) so this law would possibly benefit them as well. Report
I think these rules are long over due! I think people are more accustomed now to seeing this kind of information so why not have it at movie theaters, bowling alleys, and airplanes. Some of the choices in those places contain an outrageous amount of fat, salt, and sugar because of the portion sizes. People have a right to know what they are buying and consuming. Report
I think this would be great. I don't eat out much, but this would help me make the best choices when I do. Report
I think it's a great idea. It will help me make better choices. In California they already do this and it was a big help for me when I was visiting in making the best choice for me. Report
I only eat out under emergency conditions, IE: out of town for Dr. appt. and it's over 6 hours. So little, I'm not worried with it. Report
I try my best to label read before I buy anything. Report
I already research my food online when I know ahead of time where we're going but if you go to eat last minute sometimes ther's not time to do that so this would help tremendously! Report
Movie theatres should not be exempt! Report
I love it that I can see the calorie count at restaurants. I have used the calorie counts at Panera to make more informed choices for myself. I am not concerned about the possible exemptions. Any information that can be provided is better than not knowing! Report
I think it would be a good idea, knowledge is power. I'm not sure how it would specifically effect me though.. Report
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