FDA Finalizes Calorie Labeling Rules For Prepared Food

The FDA finalized calorie labeling rules on Tuesday that require the information to be listed on vending machines and on menus and menu boards in chain restaurants or similar food establishments.

The requirement was passed in 2010 as part of the Affordable Care Act. However, the labeling standards won’t take effect until late 2015.

FDA Commissioner Margaret A. Hamburg, M.D. explained, “Americans eat and drink about one-third of their calories away from home and people today expect clear information about the products they consume. Making calorie information available on chain restaurant menus and vending machines is an important step for public health that will help consumers make informed choices for themselves and for their families.”

The rule applies for chain restaurants or food establishments that have 20 or more locations under the same name and selling the same items. Seasonal menu items, daily specials, and condiments do not have to be labeled at these places.

Other exemptions under the requirement include bottles of liquor behind a bar and items from food trucks, airplanes, and trains. Other than bottles behind a bar, alcohol will have to be labeled if listed on the menu.

The vending machine rule requires operators who own 20 or more machines to show calorie information. While chain restaurants and food establishments have a year for compliance, vending machines will have two years.

Though the FDA has finalized calorie labeling rules, many restaurants and food establishments have already been displaying this information. They began doing this years ago so they could comply with requirements across states and local regulations.

The purpose of the labeling is that if people know how many calories are in a large popcorn and soda at the movies, they might be less inclined to order it.

To give consumers context about their calorie consumption, menus and menu boards must also include the statement: “2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice, but calorie needs vary.”

Commissioner Hamburg said the rules were delayed for five years due to the complexities of applying a standard to diverse eating establishments.

For example, supermarkets expressed concerns over how many items they would have to label, versus a restaurant which is much more limited in what it serves. To compromise, the FDA excluded prepared food intended for many in supermarkets, such as deli meats, but a prepared sandwich would have a calorie label.

Some Republicans in Congress have expressed concerns about the rule burdening food establishments, citing unnecessary costs as one reason.

The FDA calorie labeling standards also require establishments to give consumers written information if they request it. The FDA said this includes “total calories, total fat, calories from fat, saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, sodium, total carbohydrates, fiber, sugars, and protein.”