Whether they want to or not, consumers will soon know how many calories they are eating when ordering off the menu at chain restaurants, picking up prepared foods at supermarkets and even eating a tub of popcorn.
The Food and Drug Administration announced long-delayed calorie labeling rules Tuesday, requiring establishments that sell prepared foods and have 20 or more locations to post the calorie content of food “clearly and conspicuously” on their menus, menu boards and displays. Companies will have until November 2015 to comply.
The regulations will also apply to convenience stores, bakeries, coffee shops, pizza delivery, amusement parks and vending machines. Beverages are included in the rules, and alcohol will be labeled if drinks are listed on the menu.
“Americans eat and drink about one-third of their calories away from home and people today expect clear information about the products they consume,” FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg said. The effort is just one way Americans can combat obesity, she added.
The menus and menu boards will tell diners that a 2,000-calorie diet is used as the basis for daily nutrition, noting that individual calorie needs may vary. Additional nutritional information beyond calories, including sodium, fats, sugar and other items, must be available upon request.
The rules deal a blow to the grocery and convenience store industries, which have lobbied hard to be left out since the menu labels became law in 2010 as a part of the health care overhaul. Even before the new rules were announced, some Republicans in Congress had expressed concern that they would be too burdensome for businesses.
The law came together when the restaurant industry agreed to the labeling in an effort to dodge a growing patchwork of city and state rules. But supermarkets, convenience stores and many other retailers that sell prepared food said they wanted no part of it. The restaurant industry pushed to include those outlets, as they increasingly have offered restaurant-like service.
The FDA issued proposed rules in 2011 that included supermarkets and convenience stores but excluded theaters. The final rules being released Tuesday include all of them.
Representatives for the supermarket industry have said it could cost them up to a billion dollars to put the labels in place — costs that would be passed on to consumers. They said the rules could cover thousands of items in each store, unlike restaurants, which have fewer items.
To assuage some of their concerns, the FDA excluded prepared foods that are typically intended for more than one person to eat and require more preparation, like deli meats, cheeses or bulk deli salads.
New York City was the first in the country to put a calorie-posting law in place, and other cities and states have followed since then. Several restaurant chains are already putting calorie labels on menus and menu boards nationwide.