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FDA Calorie Labeling: Frequently Asked Questions

Kristina Brooks Dec 3rd, 2014 (updated Jun 16th, 2015)
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According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Americans consume about one-third of their calories outside of the home. To help consumers better monitor what they eat, the FDA has published new rules requiring restaurants to display calorie labels for all menu items. Here are 10 frequently asked questions about the new calorie labels. 

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What exactly will I see on the labels?
What exactly will I see on the labels?

Required labels will contain (1) calorie counts for all items listed on menus or menu boards, (2) a brief statement on the recommended daily caloric intake for adults and children, and (3) a statement that additional nutritional information for food items is available upon request.

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Where will I see the new calorie labeling?
Where will I see the new calorie labeling?

New calorie labels will be required at all sitdown restaurants--as well as similar retail food establishments--that are a part of a chain of 20 or more locations. This can include movie theaters, pizza and ice cream parlors, coffee shops, and even drive-thru and self-serve items. Labels must also be displayed on vending machines, subject to some exceptions.

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Will I see the calorie labels soon?
Will I see the calorie labels soon?

Some retail food establishments have already begun to include calorie labels on their menus. But restaurants that are covered under federal requirements have one year from December 1, 2014 to display calorie labels. Vending machine operators have two years to display the labels.

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Will the calorie labels be easy to read?
Will the calorie labels be easy to read?

Yes. Calorie labels must be clearly displayed and must be no smaller than the price, name, or menu description of an item, whichever is smallest. Lastly, there are specific rules for font color, type, and contrast. Vending machines must follow these font requirements, and display labels on a sign close to selection buttons.

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How will nutritional values be determined?
How will nutritional values be determined?

Content information that is displayed on the labels must be sourced from nutrient databases, cookbooks, laboratory analyses, Nutrition Facts labels, or other credible sources. Restaurants and food establishments must also make sure that food is always prepared the same way it was when when nutritional values were determined.

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What about food trucks?
What about food trucks?

Food trucks will not be required to display calorie labels. However, many already display calorie counts for menu items and some may voluntarily choose to be covered under label requirements in the future.

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Will I find other information on the labels?
Will I find other information on the labels?

To help customers better track the calories they consume, all labels are required to provide a statement on daily caloric intake: “2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice, but calorie needs vary.” Additional information on calories from fats, cholesterol, sodium, fiber, sugars and carbohydrates, must also be available upon request. These can come in the form of cards, handouts booklets or kiosks, among others.  

 

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Will combo meals be covered as well?
Will combo meals be covered as well?

Yes. Since the combo meal is a combination of standard menu items, it must also be labeled. Generally, the label will show the total calorie count for the meal. If there are three or more options (main with sides, chips or drink), the label must be displayed as a range (400-650 calories). If the combo only has two items (main with side or drink), total calories will be displayed with a slash (200/350 calories).

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What about calorie labels for children’s items?
What about calorie labels for children’s items?

Calorie information will still be labeled for childrens items, but there may be a different general caloric intake statement, based on recommended calories for children. "1,200 to 1,400 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice for children ages 4 to 8 years, but calorie needs vary," is one example.

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Will there be calorie labels for alcoholic beverages?
Will there be calorie labels for alcoholic beverages?

Yes. If the beverage is a standard menu item such as a signature drink, or listed on the menu or menu board, calorie labels will be required. In some cases, calorie information will be presented as a range for beer and wine (80-150 calories), rather than specifically to each item.