Whether they want to or not, consumers will soon know how many calories they are eating when ordering off the menu at chain restaurants, picking up prepared foods at supermarkets and even eating a tub of popcorn at the movie theater.
The Food and Drug Administration is announcing long-delayed calorie labeling rules on Tuesday, requiring establishments that sell prepared foods and have 20 or more locations to post the calorie content of food "clearly and conspicuously" on their menus. Companies will have until November 2015 to comply.
The regulations will also apply to convenience stores, bakeries, coffee shops, amusement parks and vending machines.
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The idea is that people may pass on that bacon double cheeseburger if they know it has hundreds of calories — and, in turn, restaurants may make their foods healthier to keep calorie counts down. Beverages are included in the rules, and alcohol will be labeled if drinks are listed on the menu.
"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 Margaret Hamburg said. The effort is just one way Americans can combat obesity, she added.
The menus and menu boards will tell diners that a 2,000-calorie diet is used as the basis for daily nutrition, noting that individual calorie needs may vary. Additional nutritional information beyond calories, including sodium, fats, sugar and other items, must be available upon request.
The rules deal a blow to the grocery and convenience store industries, which have lobbied hard to be left out since the menu labels became law in 2010 as a part of the health care overhaul. Even before the new rules were announced, some Republicans in Congress had expressed concern that they would be too burdensome for businesses.