The crazy way restaurants come up with calorie counts

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Restaurants and supermarket chains are rushing to post calorie counts on their menus by spring thanks to a requirement from the Food and Drug Administration.

That poses a lot of questions.

Will free bread baskets be counted?

What about fast-food salads with endless toppings like fried or grilled chicken, croutons and tons of dressing options?

According to the FDA, giving consumers a range of calories is OK; except that range can seem monumental; from 400 to 1,200 calories in some cases.

The Associated Press found out answers to specific questions through a public records request.

First off, how should calorie counts be determined?

The FDA says through lab analysis, databases, cookbooks, recipes or from manufacturers.

Dinner rolls or the chips and salsa placed on the table for free are exempt, because in general, restaurants don't have to cite items that aren't listed on menus.

That includes seasonal items!

What about grocery stores with hot food bars where people serve themselves?

The FDA says the *ladles can be considered a serving size.

The federal regulation affects eateries with 20 or more locations, as well as supermarkets and even vending machines!

Perhaps the bigger question is, are you really going to change what you order?

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FILE - This march 8, 2010 file photo shows the sandwich board at a Panera store with the calorie count for each item, in Brookline, Mass. Diners could soon see calorie counts on menus of chain restaurants. But what about the roasted chicken sold at grocery stores, or the hot dogs convenience stores sell? Will movie theaters have to tell patrons the number of calories in a giant soda and bucket of popcorn? The food industry is closely watching the Food and Drug Administration to see which establishments are included in the final menu labeling rules, expected this year. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa, File)
FILE - In this July 18, 2008 file photo, calories of each food item appear on a McDonalds drive-thru menu in New York. Like it or not, many restaurant diners will soon know more about what they are eating under menu labeling requirements proposed Friday by the Food and Drug Administration. The requirements will force chain restaurants with 20 or more locations, along with bakeries, grocery stores, convenience stores and coffee chains, to clearly post the amount of calories in each item on menus, both in restaurants and drive-through lanes. The new rules will also apply to vending machines where calorie information isn't already visible on the package. (AP Photo/Ed Ou, File)
Loaves of sourdough bread, with a listing of 140 calories for a two ounce serving, are displayed on a rack at the Panera store in Brookline, Mass., Monday, March 8, 2010. Panera bread company is announcing that they will become the first chain to post calories on menus nationally. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)
TORONTO, ON - MAY 13: Toronto, Canada - May 13 - Timothy Broughton, the co-owner of C'est What, with one of his calorie count menus and a Buffalo burger. Toronto Public Health launched a pilot project in 2013 to put calorie counts on menus. Turns out only four of 22 restaurants involved in the project made it to the end and it cost the owners plenty of business. With the provincial government moving towards requiring restaurants put calorie counts on menus, this is a story about why one ambitious attempt at doing so failed. (Richard Lautens/Toronto Star via Getty Images)
FILE - In this June 17, 2013 file photo, a menu board showing calorie counts hangs at a Starbucks in New York. Tracking calories at chain restaurants is supposed to become easier next year, but new studies raise questions about whether the counts actually make a difference for diners and eateries. (AP Photo/Candice Choi, File)
Calories of each food item appear on a McDonalds drive-thru menu in New York, Friday July 18, 2008. Several fast food chains say they have finally begun obeying a new city rule requiring some restaurants to post calorie counts right on the menu (AP Photo/Ed Ou)
New York requires all chains restaurants like Taco Bell to post the calorie count of their foods on menu boards. The menu at a Taco Bell in Flushing, New York. (Photo by Carolyn Cole/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

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