FDA: New Calorie Display Rules Go Into Effect Nationwide

Posting calorie counts is now mandatory for all food establishments.

— -- The U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced its final rules for nationwide nutritional labeling on menus and vending machines earlier today.

A little-known provision in the Affordable Care Act called for all food establishments nationwide to post calorie counts on their menus. Other nutrient information – total calories, fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, sodium, total carbohydrates, sugars, fiber and total protein – must also be made available in writing upon request.

“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 Dr. Margaret A. Hamburg said. “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 their families.”

Establishments with at least 20 locations will now be required to post calorie counts on all menu items, calorie boards and drive-thru displays. The new rules apply to restaurants, movie theaters, pizza parlors, amusement parks, grocery stores and anywhere else where ready-to-eat meals are sold.

It also applies to food trucks and vending machines.

The guidelines are stricter than expected. Calorie counts for alcoholic beverages, which were not mentioned in earlier drafts, were added to the final guidelines.

New York City adopted similar guidelines in 2006. Other large cities have followed suit.

The National Restaurant Association, which represents more than 200,000 restaurant locations across the country, responded positively to the FDA's announcement.

"We believe that the Food and Drug Administration has positively addressed the areas of greatest concern with the proposed regulations and is providing the industry with the ability to implement the law in a way that will most benefit consumers," the group said in a statement.

"We appreciate the diligence the FDA took in understanding the complexities of how this regulation will impact the restaurant industry, and the patrons of restaurants all across the country."

McDonald’s and a few other large chains already post their calorie counts in most locations. But this is the first law that makes calorie listing mandatory across the country.

It has taken four years since the bill was signed into law for the FDA to finalize its recommendations into guidelines. Companies now have one year to comply.