FDA Issues Calorie Count Labeling Regs Just in Time for Thanksgiving

Posted on November 25, 2014

With spectacularly bad timing the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has just issued final rules for calorie count labeling for chain restaurants, movie theaters, pizza restaurants, amusement parks and vending machines.

The final rules are a requirement under the Affordable Care Act, more commonly known as Obamacare. Consumer health advocates are doing a happy dance and celebrating with a kale smoothie, because the final rules are much harsher than they had asked for. The rules now cover vending machines, amusement parks, pizza chain restaurants and certain prepared foods at the grocery store. The big surprise is that alcoholic drinks now come under the rules. As before, the restaurants that must comply are those with more than 20 locations. That includes big chains like McDonald's, as well as sit-down restaurants such as The Cheesecake Factory.

If you order a mixed drink at a bar, the bartender will not have to warn you about the calorie count in your Manhattan. But if it's on the menu, it must have nutritional information displayed. At the grocery store, any prepared food item meant to serve one person -- such as a sandwich -- must have nutritional labeling. But your rotisserie chicken does not have to have nutritional labeling. It's a roast chicken, just go look it up.

The rules go far beyond what Congress originally asked for and grocery store owners are very upset. They say that they were never even mentioned in the original law, and that the rules will raise costs. The pizza chains fought hard against being included in the regulations. For one thing, everyone orders different toppings on their pizzas, so calculating the calorie counts for every single pizza will be a challenge. The new rules allow the pizza chains to post calorie counts by the slice, not by the whole pie. So the next time you order a pizza and read the calorie count, you might want to double check the size of the slice for those calories.

The National Association of Convenience Stores is really unhappy with the rules. This group represents the convenience stores such as 7-11 who say they are not chain restaurants and want to be excluded from the rules. They issued a statement today saying, "NACS has long advocated to the FDA that any menu labeling regulations must account for differences between the convenience store business model and a chain restaurant business model. The new rules announced today don’t recognize how convenience stores, grocery stores, delivery operations and other approaches to foodservice are different than restaurants."

The group has proposed its own rules that exclude businesses "that derive 50 percent or more of their revenue from food that is intended for immediate consumption or prepared and processed on-site." The rules may not be so final if the convenience stores and grocery stores decide to file suit.