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FDA finalizes menu-labeling regs

Restaurants that are part of a chain with at least 20 units will be required to disclose the calorie counts of alcoholic beverages under final menu-labeling rules issued this morning by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

The new regulations also require restaurants in a 20-unit-or-more chain to post a notice on menus and menu boards reading, “2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice, but calorie needs vary.” As with all of the new requirements, restaurants have one year to comply.

The core requirement of the finalized regulations is the inclusion of calorie counts on menus and menu boards for each regular menu item. Specials and other limited-time offers are exempted.

The calorie information must be posted “clearly and conspicuously” next to each item or its price.

In addition, far more nutritional information must be provided in written form to consumers upon request. That information would include total calories, total fat, calories from fat, saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, sodium, total carbohydrates, fiber, sugars and protein.

As the restaurant industry had requested, the new regulations will pre-empt any state or local labeling requirements, sparing chains the headache of meeting a quilt work of regulations.

Exemptions for some channels were also closed. For instance, the requirements extend to “retail food establishments” that are like restaurants, an apparent reference to convenience stores, supermarkets and drug stores that offer foodservice.

Entertainment venues like movie theaters and amusement parks were also included.

Vending companies with at least 20 machines will be required to comply, though they were granted a two-year phase-in period.

“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,” Dawn Sweeney, president and CEO of the National Restaurant Association, said in a statement released last night.

The industry had lobbied hard to shape the regulations. In an historic departure for the industry and groups like the NRA, restaurateurs actually asked for the national menu-labeling regulations, seeing them as preferable to a patchwork of local and state requirements.

The labeling requirements were part of the Affordable Care Act that was passed in March 2010. The rules have been drafted and redrafted in the four and a half years since.

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