Uncle Sam’s New Laws for Nutritional Disclosures at Restaurant Chains

The “health-conscious consumer” trend of seeking nutritional disclosures at restaurant chains has become law in the United States. New legislation requires chains with more than 20 locations to prominently display calorie counts on menu boards.

Nutritional Disclosures at Restaurant Chains

While the quest for food safety and truth in nutritional advertising has existed since the early colonial period in America’s history – and in fact, originally traces back to 13th century England – the most recent wave of legislation has gained tremendous speed and traction in the past five to ten years.

Uncle Sam wants you to lose your muffin top with nutritional disclosures at restaurant chains
Source: Hive Health Media

The movement came from consumer demand related to similar trends of freshness and healthful foods. Also weight-watching guests, mommy bloggers, lobbyists, and others pushed for reform and visibility in the food service industry in response to the obesity epidemic. Their combined forces have snowballed this trend into a law.

The Legislation: Who, What and How

Nutritional Disclosures at restaurant chains like McDonald'sSource: CBS News

Following the lead of smaller chains like Panera Bread and Au Bon Pain, in September 2012, McDonald’s became the largest chain and the first Quick Serve Restaurant (QSR) to post calorie information on menu boards at restaurants all across America.

The new health law was originally passed in March 2010, but the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) did not release specific regulations and complete rules until 2013. The regulations include standard rules for the types of establishments covered by the law, how the calories should be displayed, a statement regarding calorie intake that must be posted, the availability of nutritional information, and how state and local laws are affected.

Restaurants with more than 20 locations are required to post the calorie information for each serving of food for standard menu items prominently on menu boards. Limited-time offers (LTOs) and unique special promotions are considered exempt. Chain movie theaters, sporting events, airplanes and other businesses that serve food but are not primarily restaurants would also be exempt. You can find the complete list of information the FDA’s website.

The federal law overrides many state laws already in place, but will not take precedence over local laws that are stricter than the federal guidelines. For example, New York City requires nutritional disclosures at restaurant chains with more than 15 locations instead of the 20 locations required by federal law. Other states and cities are following suit. In March 2013, Las Vegas and Nevada restaurateurs rallied against a Nevada bill that would chains with more than 10 locations to supply nutritional facts.

We expect to see more similar legislation in the future in tougher, stricter forms. Keep up with this trend.

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