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Daily Dose

7 changes to expect with the new calorie label law

A menu board showing calorie counts at a Starbucks in New York in 2013. AP

The US Food and Drug Administration issued its long awaited rules requiring chain restaurants and vending machines to post calorie counts on menus and menu boards. Even movie theater popcorn — with its 1,000 calories per tub — will soon have calories posted by the register.

“Americans eat and drink about one-third of their calories away from home and people today expect clear information about the products they consume,” said FDA Commissioner Dr. Margaret A. Hamburg, in a statement.

Proponents of the new regulations, which were written into the Affordable Care Act, agree. “It will soon seem strange that once it was possible to go into a Chick-fil-A or a Denny’s and not see calories on menus and menu boards,” said Margo Wootan, nutrition policy director of the Centers for Science in the Public Interest, a nutrition advocacy group. “We hope that small chains and independent restaurants provide the same information voluntarily.”

Even the National Restaurant Association — which represents those establishments that will have to enact the new rules — praised the FDA for addressing “the areas of greatest concern with the proposed regulations” in its final rule that was delayed for months.

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So, what can you expect to see? Here are the seven biggest changes.

1. Calorie transparency. Any restaurant that’s part of a chain with 20 or more locations will be required to post calories including Kentucky Fried Chicken, Subway, the Olive Garden, and the Cheesecake Factory. Those rules go into effect a year from now. A handful of chains like Panera, McDonald’s, Starbucks, and Au Bon Pain already have their calorie counts listed.

When a menu lists three or more choices for menu items in a combination meal such as chips or a side salad, the calories must be declared as a range, such as 450-700 calories.

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Customers can request additional nutritional information that must be provided including total fat, saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, sodium, total carbohydrates, fiber, sugars, and protein.

2. Alcoholic beverages are included. This was a big change from the proposed rule, which didn’t include them. Cocktails, beer, and wine listed on the menu will all have their calories listed alongside. Alcoholic drinks made to order at the bar won’t be required to list calories.

3. Pizza slices aren’t standard. Pizza Hut, Domino’s, and Papa John’s and other pizza chains battled for the right to determine a serving size of pizza and list the calories by slice. They got that permission in the final rule.

4. Supermarket take outs will have to comply. Made-to-order sandwiches or salads from a chain grocery store or delicatessen will have to list calories. Foods you serve yourself from a salad or hot food bar in these establishments will also have to have calories per serving listed near the food item.

5. Snack places will get scarier. Do you really need to know how many calories are in that ice cream sundae, bakery muffin, amusement park taffy, or movie theater popcorn? The FDA says you do because those calories add up — even if ignorance is bliss.

6. Vending machine makers will have extra time to meet the new regulations. Don’t expect to see calorie and nutrition labels on vending machines until the end of 2016. Companies have an extra year to comply with the new FDA rule. Only those who own or operate 20 or more vending machines are required to post calories.

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7. Food trucks aren’t covered. Some already post calories as a service to their customers, but they’re not required to follow the new rules.


Deborah Kotz can be reached at dkotz@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @debkotz2.