FDA Rules Require Calorie Counts on Menus

Prepared food must be "clearly and conspicuously" labeled

Nov 25, 2014
Outside Magazine
calorie counts health nutrition food and drug administration

Chain establishments with 20 or more locations must provide the calorie content of their prepared foods.    Jaume Escofet/Flickr

Pretty soon, everything from chain restaurants and supermarkets to movie theaters and vending machines will tell you exactly how many calories you’re consuming when you eat their food. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced Tuesday that chain establishments with 20 or more locations selling prepared foods must post the calorie content of their meals.

According to the Associated Press, these establishments will have to “clearly and conspicuously” post the calorie content of their food on menus, menu boards, and displays. The hope is that people will have second thoughts about filling up on unhealthy foods if they can see exactly how many calories they’ll be ingesting. That, in turn, would give restaurants more incentive to offer healthier foods so as not to scare away potential customers.

“Americans eat and drink about one-third of their calories away from home, and people expect clear information about the products they consume,” FDA commissioner Margaret Hamburg told the AP.

The calorie posting will look much like current nutrition labels on food boxes, informing consumers that the average person should eat 2,000 calories a day. Other info, like how much sodium, fat, and sugar the food contains, must be available by request.

The menu labels became law in 2010, but the FDA is only now implementing them. The rule has gotten pushback from grocery and convenience stores, and representatives of the supermarket industry claim it could cost up to $1 billion to put labels on their food—an expense that would jack up the price for customers.

Leslie Sarasin, president and CEO of the Food Marketing Institute, told the AP that the group is unhappy with the rules as they will affect stores’ ability to offer “fresh, minimally processed, locally produced items.”

Food served on forms of transportation, such as trains, planes, and food trucks, will be exempt from the rule. Companies that must comply have until November of next year.