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Where will calorie labels appear? Not just menus

Apr 25, 4:00 AM EDT

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Diners could soon see calorie counts on the menus of chain restaurants.

But will they be able to get that same clear information at grocery stores, convenience stores, movie theaters or airplanes?

The food industry is closely watching the Food and Drug Administration to see which establishments are included in the final menu labeling rules, which are expected this year.

The idea is that people may pass on that bacon double cheeseburger if they know that it has 1,000 calories.

But non-restaurant establishments have lobbied hard for exemption, and the rules have been delayed.

FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg told Congress earlier this month that writing the rules has been "much more challenging than expected." The agency issued proposed rules in 2011 but has faced pressure to revise them to exclude retail outlets like grocery and convenience stores.

The FDA has sent the rules to the White House, meaning they could be released soon.

Five places you may - or may not - see calorie labels once the rules kick in:


The restaurant industry pushed for menu labeling and helped it become law as part of health overhaul in 2010. Chain restaurants that operate all over the country wanted the federal standards because of an evolving patchwork of state and local laws that require calorie labeling and could have forced those outlets to follow different rules in different locations.

Not all restaurants are happy with menu labeling, though. Pizza restaurants, led by delivery giant Domino's, say it doesn't make sense to force their franchisees to order expensive new menu boards when few people walk into their brick-and-mortar outlets. They argue for putting the information online. The pizza companies say there are more than 34 million ways to order a pizza, and they need more flexibility on labeling than other restaurants. Supporters of the rules say pizzas are no different from sandwiches or other foods that have a variety of toppings.

The rules will only apply to restaurants with 20 or more outlets, so independent eateries are exempt. Bakeries, coffee shops and ice cream parlors are all expected to be included if they have enough stores to qualify. But alcohol won't have to be labeled in any of those places under the proposed rules. The FDA proposed exempting it.


The supermarket and convenience store industries were perhaps the most unhappy with the rules that the FDA proposed in 2011. The agency proposed requiring those stores to label calories for prepared foods on menu boards and displays.

The restaurant industry has pushed for those outlets to be included, arguing that many of them are promoting their prepared food sales and directly competing with restaurants. Nutrition advocates have also called for those stores to be included, saying that a rotisserie chicken labeled with a calorie count at a restaurant should also be labeled at the grocery store takeout next door. Same with baked goods like muffins, pies or loaves of bread.

The supermarket industry estimates it could cost them a billion dollars to put the rules in place - costs that would be passed on to consumers. Along with convenience stores, the supermarkets say the ever-changing selection at salad bars, deli counters and other prepared food stations would make it difficult and costly to nail down accurate calorie counts and constantly update signs.

Both industries argue that the law is intended for restaurants and not for them. They say the labeling rules will be much easier to put in place at restaurants with fixed menus.

"The cost of compliance for a convenience store is different than a one-time cost to McDonald's," says Lyle Beckwith of the National Association of Convenience Stores.


Movie theater chains lobbied to be exempt and appeared to win that fight when they were exempted in the 2011 proposed rules. But nutrition groups are lobbying to include them in the final rules, especially because movie treats can be so unhealthy.

Nutrition lobbyist Margo Wootan of the Center for Science in the Public Interest says many people don't realize they are eating a day's worth of calories when they stop by the movie concessions counter and grab a large popcorn and extra-large soda.

"If a company is going to serve you 2,000 calories and call it a snack, the least they can do is tell people how many calories are in it," Wootan says.


Passengers will most likely be able to purchase food calorie-blind in the air and on the rails. Along with movie theaters, airlines and trains were exempted from the proposed labeling rules in 2011. The FDA said that it would likely exempt food served in places where the "primary business activity is not the sale of food" and that don't "present themselves publicly as a restaurant." That also includes amusement parks, sports stadiums and hotels, unless restaurants set up in those places are part of a larger chain.


Vending machines will be required to have labels, but the industry - comprised mostly of smaller operators - is asking for flexibility in how they are required to post them.

Eric Bell of the National Automatic Merchandising Association says the group estimates the rules could cost operators up to $42,000 a year, which he calls a "huge burden" on those small businesses.

Join the discussion

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abcaid April 25 2014 at 8:30 AM

Finally a tool to help me to achieve my goal - 400lbs by the end of the year

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1 reply
littlepri165 abcaid April 25 2014 at 1:39 PM

wtg gl

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bdgrizcp April 25 2014 at 7:36 AM

Another complete waste of time, money and effort by too big to be smart government. If you order a 10 OZ cheeseburger with bacon and mayo you are obviously not counting your calories. I just think that people who are concerned with health already know the calorie counts and order accordingly. I think sometimes the mistake government makes is when they decide to do something because they think it helps someone in spite of clear evidence that it does not.

The more intelligent approach for government is to hammer away at what is healthy, as the First Lady has done. Michelle Obama has taken some heat for her health campaign but I for one applaud her efforts. And I think she's actually made a dent in the national awareness as regards good eating habits. I said a dent--but enforcing calorie counts is money for nothing.

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slloyd414 bdgrizcp April 25 2014 at 8:29 AM

When I look up the nutritional information, I am often surprised at what I find. I would welcome calorie counts so I can make better choices for myself. And it would be much easier than having to search for the info online somewhere.

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nene2411 slloyd414 April 25 2014 at 9:35 AM

I agree with you slloyd. A lot of times these places add so many things to their meals that you wouldn't necessarily expect to find in a particular dish (like sugar or excessive salt).. so you might think ordering a salad with grilled chicken is the healthy way to go.. until you see the nutrition information and oftentimes its worse than eating a burger.

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BipDBo April 25 2014 at 10:23 AM

I think calorie count should be required on beer and other alcoholic drinks.

It should also be put on restaurant beverages like soda; on the soda dispenser where self serve is used and on the menu or a separate easily viewable, easily readable chart for counter serve. Soda dispenser labels and charts can be developed by the soda vendors for very little cost and displayed with very little inconvenience to the restaurant.

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Richie April 25 2014 at 11:41 AM

People should be left alone to do as they please. This country has more laws and people telling us what we should do according to them...... No one lives forever unless you believe in God and His Son. who died for everyone and gives ALL the gift of eternal life if they believe.

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1 reply
johnpapajack Richie April 25 2014 at 5:02 PM

Richie........I too am a Christian ....but God tied into a food blog..............seriously?

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msgoe April 25 2014 at 12:55 PM

if your buying a hotdog at a convenience store I doubt the calorie count should be your biggest concern ...

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Marian April 25 2014 at 6:26 AM

Big Brother really is watching... Even watching your calorie intake at the restaurant and the grocery store...Gone are the days when you could choose what you wanted to eat with no one breathing down your back about your weight and calorie intake....Can't even enjoy popcorn at the movie without being hit in the face with the caloric content... Well, I intend to eat to what I want, when I want, and much I want....

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lataa8 April 25 2014 at 11:27 AM

common who writes this stuff a calorie means nothing. they should label nutritional content, mainly mineral content since all diseases are a result of a mineral deficiency. timmy

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tes7000 April 25 2014 at 12:05 PM

I like having nutritional info available on products in the supermarket, and it would be great at restaurants too, but the reality is, a person knows whether a food is fattening or not. In addition, nutritional info for most foods is readily available online, and that's probably enough.

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rosspoling April 25 2014 at 5:29 PM

I agree and the FDA should not stop, the items that are listed are not yrue and misleading the consumer. This will help but need better labeling.

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eloise April 25 2014 at 9:44 AM

Probably a good thing. However, in my dailly life I do pay attention to these things, when I am out on the town I prefer to get what I want. I probably wouldn't pay much attention to the nutrition info. I do limit carbs at all times though.

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