Restaurants Can Wait Another Year to Post Calorie Amounts

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calorieRestaurants, delis and grocery store prepared food counters are breathing a sigh of relief that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is allowing them to wait additional year before it is mandatory to post calorie amounts on menus at the point of sale. So consumers can continue ordering a salad, grilled fish dish and dessert without realizing they have consumed 1,100, 1,700 and 900 calories respectively (taken from a real national chain menu that has put the information online), at least until the new December 2016 deadline.

Many restaurant chains and those with food service are already complying with the labeling requirements that were part of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and previously required to be in place December 2015. Go to a McDonald’s, Starbucks, Target or AMC Movie Theatre, and the information on how many calories that shake, latte, pizza or popcorn (as well as other dishes) contains is prominently displayed. It could be coincidental, but the sizes of many items, like drinks and popcorn containers, also got smaller around the time the numbers were unveiled; it may have been the economy but the figures look a little better for a smaller sized portion. Other chains, like Cheesecake Factory, Maggiano’s and even El Pollo Loco, added lower calorie menu options with the numbers prominently featured.

The requirement to implement the signs this year received tremendous opposition and heavy lobbying from many smaller restaurant chains and grocery chains with prepared food takeout areas. Even though the ACA went into law in 2010, the FDA was still refining the rules late last year. This spring, a bipartisan group of senators asked for further clarification on behalf of constituents and the one-year delay.

“Industry, trade and other associations, including the grocery industry, have asked for an additional year to comply with the menu labeling final rule, beyond the original December 2015 compliance date,” according to the FDA announcement. The agency agreed that additional time and clarifying guidance would help facilitate compliance with the final specific requirements for presenting the calorie information.

The original menu calorie-labeling requirement was aimed at improving nutrition and addressing obesity, which is why it was part of the ACA. The targets then were fast food and chain restaurants. So, the legislation specified that any chain that had more than 20 locations would be subject to the requirement.

The restaurant industry cried foul, however, and pushed for other food establishments that are cutting into their take-out market, such as grocery store delis, to be forced to display calorie counts too. As a result, the rules published late last year affect more types of businesses. In fact, the FDA now estimated that the mandatory calorie-posting requirement will affect 1,640 chains around the country.

“The FDA agrees additional time is necessary for the agency to provide further clarifying guidance,” commented Michael Taylor, the FDA’s deputy commissioner for foods. Given the new businesses being affected and ongoing confusion, the FDA agreed that restaurants and other food service establishments can wait another year before they are required to post calorie amounts. In the interim, the FDA promised to issue more clarification on the requirements later this summer so companies have time to implement new menus or menu boards by the new December 2016 deadline.

Written and edited by Dyanne Weiss

Wall Street Journal: FDA Extends Deadline for Listing Calories on Menus
TIME: Restaurants Get an Extra Year to Put Calories On Menus
Nation’s Restaurant News: FDA delays menu-labeling requirements

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