Restaurants Sorting Out Weird Calorie Issues Before Menu Rules Go Into Effect

Image courtesy of Kai Brinker

When your salad comes with dressing and croutons, should a menu board calorie count include those toppings? Does a restaurant have to calculate and post the calories in a seasonal item like an eggnog latte? Restaurants and vending machine operators only have a few months to figure this out before the Food and Drug Administration’s calorie-count requirement becomes mandatory.

The FDA issued those rules back in 2014, and restaurants are going ahead with the assumption that the incoming Trump administration won’t delay or do away with them. The rules require that restaurants post calories on their menus, and covers businesses with more than 20 outlets, including food items sold in vending machine and snack bars.

That means solving the crouton question, and a lot of other very picky questions. The Associated Press sent a public records request to the FDA, and got to see some of those very specific questions submitted.

The FDA’s answer about the croutons was that customizable items can have a range of calories posted, depending on the options chosen. This can lead to amusing problems, like when Chipotle meant to say that their chorizo meat option added 300 calories to a burrito, but instead produced a sign that implied the whole burrito had 300 calories.

Other questions: what should be posted at soda fountains where customers serve themselves? The FDA says to post the number of calories in a cup without ice. What about at self-serve salad bars and buffets? Restaurants and grocery stores should base the count on the size of the spoon or ladle used to serve the food, and use common household measurements like “1 cup” for items served with tongs or other utensils.

The rules go into effect this spring. In the meantime, study up by taking our quiz about the calorie counts of popular fast food items.

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