The Food and Drug Administration proposed a regulation in April that would require U.S. restaurant chains with 20 or more units to include calorie counts with their menu offerings.
The FDA received about 900 comments before the public comment period ended June 6, said Marianna Naum, policy analyst for the FDA’s Office of Food Defense, Communication and Emergency Response.
As of mid-November, the agency still was reviewing comments before issuing a final rule.
“At this time we cannot say when we will issue the final regulation,” she said, but the effective date will be announced in that final regulation.
Most observers expect the rule to take effect in 2012, but already some localities, including California, New York City and Philadelphia, require nutrition information on menus.
Is the requirement a good idea?
Yes, said Mike O’Leary, vice president of fresh-cut for Boskovich Farms Inc., Oxnard, Calif.
“Making (the calorie count) available to people is another way of suggesting that they should be watching their diet,” he said.
“There’s a reminder there.”
The practice is a good thing for the produce industry, he said, adding that he expects younger consumers to pay more attention to the menu information than older ones.
“It depends on the consumer and how much knowledge they have about it,” said Vince Choate, director of marketing for Hollandia Produce LLC, Carpinteria, Calif.
The information might be confusing to some diners, he said.
“It’s just a helpful hint,” he added. “I’m sure those who are familiar with the system can look at it and understand it.”
The regulation could benefit the produce industry, since fruits and vegetables are low in fat and calories, said Jay Iverson, partner and vice president of sales and marketing for GreenGate Fresh LLP, Salinas, Calif. But he doesn’t think a calorie count should be mandatory.
“We don’t need more regulations,” he said.
Most people who go out to dinner on a Friday night will eat what they want anyway, unless they’re on a diet, Iverson said.
“If you eat at a white-tablecloth restaurant, you expect to a down a few calories,” he said.
However, he added that he might pay more attention to calories if he’s buying a sandwich for lunch at a Subway restaurant.
“The nutrition and calorie information has to be there because, until people see what’s in those foods, they’re going to splurge,” said Jayne Hurley, a senior nutritionist for the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Science in the Public Interest.
“If you’re churning out appetizers that are 1,000 calories, entrees that are 1,000 calories and desserts that are 1,000 calories, that information should be on the menu,” she said.
Hurley would like to see restaurants post the information even before it becomes the law.
“If they would put calories up before they were mandated, I think that would help a lot,” she said.