Health

  The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved guidelines for nutrition labeling at restaurants and on vending machines. 

The menu labeling rule, a requirement of the Affordable Care Act approved last month, applies to restaurants and similar retail food establishments if they are part of a chain of 20 or more locations, doing business under the same name, offering substantially the same restaurant-type foods.

The labeling will include information about calories, total fat, cholesterol and more, according to the FDA.

Many restaurants already make nutritional information available to consumers, but the information may vary from location to location, said Claudine Kavanaugh, health scientist at the FDA.

These guidelines will change that.

“It’s going to be more consistent and uniform across the country whether you go into a McDonald’s in New York City or Los Angeles,” she said. 

Owners and operators of 20 or more vending machines will also be required to disclose calorie information. 

Establishments with fewer than 20 locations can voluntarily provide nutritional information.

Kavanaugh said that Americans eat more than one-third of their calories away from home. She said the nutrition information will be a tool for people to make informed decisions about their diets, but it in no way will be the defining factor in solving the country’s obesity problem. 

“Obesity is a very complex health problem,” she said.

Restaurant owners and companies will have a year to comply with the rules, which includes labeling for:

  • Foods, such as made to order sandwiches, ordered from a menu or menu board at a grocery store or delicatessen
  • Foods you serve yourself from a salad or hot food bar
  • Muffins at a bakery shop or coffee shop
  • Popcorn purchased at a movie theater or amusement park
  • A scoop of ice cream, milk share or sundae from an ice cream store
  • Hot dogs or frozen drinks prepared on site in a convenience or warehouse store
  • Alcoholic beverages listed on menus and menu boards 

Vending machine owners and operators have two years to  place signs, placards, stickers or posters near the food item or selection button. They can also use electronic or digital displays.

Calorie information is also required on gum ball machines and mixed nut machines.

Kavanaugh said that the agency is still working on an enforcement strategy for the new guidelines, but they are confident that most companies will comply with the rules. 

In a news release, National Restaurant Association President Dawn Sweeney said:

“We joined forces with more than 70 public health and stakeholder groups to advocate for a federal nutrition standard so that anyone dining out can have clear, easy-to-use nutrition information at the point of ordering – information that is presented in the same way, no matter what part of the country. From Portland, Oregon to Portland, Maine, diners in restaurants will have a new tool to help them make choices that are right for them.

“We believe that the Food and Drug Administration has positively addressed the areas of greatest concern with the proposed regulations and is providing the industry with the ability to implement the law in a way that will most benefit consumers.

But Lyle Beckwith, senior vice president for government relations for National Association of Convenience Stores said in a news release: “the FDA has clearly gone beyond congressional intent by expanding the types of businesses that fall under this law to include convenience stores.”