March 24, 2010

Health Care Reform To Impact Restaurants

A little-known provision in the recently passed health care reform bill will require restaurant chains to display caloric content of their food offerings on menus and outside of drive-thru windows, Associated Press (AP) writer Mary Clare Jalonick reported on Tuesday.

The new federal policy, which was written by Sen. Tom Harkin, the chairman of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, is designed to standardize the way in which fast-food restaurants and other eateries display their nutritional information.

"The nutrition information is right on the menu or menu board next to the name of the menu item, rather than in a pamphlet or in tiny print on a poster, so that consumers can see it when they are making ordering decisions," Harkin told Jalonick on March 23.

Under the new law, all menu offerings except those which will be on sale for less than 60 days will be required to post caloric content. Furthermore, additional information including fat, protein, carbohydrate, and sodium content will need to be available elsewhere in the facility. The law will also apply to food products offered in vending machines.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has one year to complete the new guidelines, which will be enforced by the agency. Violators will be subject to non-specified criminal prosecution.

The forthcoming legislation has drawn praise from both the National Restaurant Association (NRA) and the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI).

"The passage of this provision is a win for consumers and restaurateurs," Dawn Sweeney, the NRA President and CEO. "We know the importance of providing consumers with the information they want and need, no matter in which part of the country they are dining. This legislation will replace a growing patchwork of varying state and local regulations with one consistent national standard that helps consumers make choices that are best for themselves and their families."

"Congress is giving Americans easy access to the most critical piece of nutrition information they need when eating out," added CSPI nutrition policy director Margo G. Wootan. "While it's a huge victory for consumers, it's just one of dozens of things we will need to do to reduce rates of obesity and diet-related disease in this country."


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