By Anita Jones-Mueller
Most Americans assume they will experience the effects of the newly passed national health care reform in their doctor’s office, neighborhood hospital and through their paycheck withholdings. But they will also find evidence of the new legislation at many of their favorite restaurants. That’s because the health care reform bill also requires restaurants with 20 or more locations to post calorie counts on menus and menu boards.
How did this new, national menu labeling legislation come about? In the last few years, twenty-two states have passed or were considering menu labeling, either statewide or within regions, and the threat of additional states considering the legislation was expected to grow. Legislators, along with many health organizations, have pushed labeling to the point of passing in these areas, contending that nutrition information is essential to help the public make wise choices when eating away from home.
NRA supports the new standardized labeling legislation
The regional and state-based provisions have varying requirements, making it complicated for chains operating in multiple areas. The National Restaurant Association (NRA), along with many chain restaurants and health advocates, support the new standardized, nationwide menu labeling legislation, in large part because it will pre-empt all other nutrition labeling bills that have passed or are pending. The NRA’s statement on the newly passed legislation emphasizes that this new ruling, as part of the healthcare reform bill, is a â€˜win for consumers and restaurateurs,â€™ as it provides â€˜one consistent national standard that helps consumers make choices that are best for themselves and their families.â€™
Now that the bill is passed, restaurants have a lot of questions. While the answers are not all available at this point, here is what we now know:
WHO: Any restaurant with 20 or more locations nationwide, regardless of ownership, is subject to the menu labeling legislation. Also subject are foodservice establishments in schools and hospitals, convenience stores, mobile carts and vending machine operators.
WHAT: Entities subject to the legislation must post calorie counts next to standard menu items on menus and menu boards. Additional nutrition information must be available, most likely at the point of sale. Additional information required includes: calories, calories from fat, total fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, sodium, carbohydrates, sugars, dietary fiber and protein. It is likely that trans fats will also be required.
WHEN: At this point, a date for compliance has not been set. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has one year from the date the bill was passed to issue the final rulings on this legislation. After the FDA issues the ruling, a time period will be allotted for public comment. It is expected that restaurants will then have six months, possibly more, to comply. When will the pre-emption of the areas that have already passed menu labeling legislation occur? That is not known at this point. You may want to contact your state restaurant association to see what they recommend.
WHERE: Calories will be required to be printed on menus, posted on menu boards and/or printed on menu tags (for buffets, salad bars, etc.), next to the standard item. Additional nutrition information will most likely be required, upon request, at point of sale. The FDA ruling is expected to give exact specifications for how restaurants must disclose the calorie and additional nutritional information. For instance: what size font is chosen to present the calorie count, what statement must be made about recommended daily caloric intake, and how and where the additional nutrition information must be presented.
WHY: Not only will it be the law soon, but many restaurants are seeing a rise in consumer demand for nutrition information and/or healthier options. More than ever before, Americans are striving to eat more healthfully and want access to healthier cuisine when dining out. Some must eat healthier to alleviate nutrition-related health problems, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, overweight, heart disease, arthritis, celiac disease and others. Restaurants are finding it is good for business to rise to the challenge of meeting the nutritional needs of their customers.
As our nation turns the corner into a nutrition-focused era, many restaurants are positioning their companies to benefit from this shift, demonstrating their true culinary creativity with health and taste in mind.
Anita Jones-Mueller is an expert on restaurant nutrition, and is president and founder of HEALTHY DINING.
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