New FDA guidelines to require calorie counts on restaurant menus

(WISH Photo/Kevin Ratermann)

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) – Starting in May certain restaurants will have to roll out new menus with calorie counts, along with other changes for the food industry. It’s all part of a push by the FDA to make food nutrition more transparent.

After a recent acquisition, Scotty’s Brewhouse founder Scott Wise says the Indiana-based chain has a five-year, 150 restaurant goal.

“It’s going to be pretty aggressive, fast pace.  But we’re excited,” said Wise.

The new guidelines will apply to restaurants with 20 or more locations. Those qualifying eateries will have to calorie counts printed on menus and menu boards. Wise says Scotty’s will soon fall into that category, so management has already gotten a head start on the transition. He says the new, updated menus will roll out in a couple months.

“We’re spending a lot of money to make sure it’s correct,” Wise said.

Not only are calorie counts required, but if a customer asks for more nutritional information, that must also be provided in a written form.

That additional information will include calories from fat, total fat, saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, sodium, total carbohydrates, fiber, sugars and protein.

“We know exactly how many ounces of french fries you’re getting, or how many pickles come on a burger,” explained Wise.

“It’s beneficial to not only the guest, but it’s also for us so that we can steer them in the right direction if they’re trying to stay below a certain calorie count,” said downtown Indianapolis Scotty’s Brewhouse bartender Kelley Morgan.

Morgan says she also has a daughter with Type 1 diabetes and admits the new guidelines will help her make sure she’s choosing the right foods for her daughter when they’re eating out.

The FDA says Americans consume about a third of their calories away from home. The agency says nearly 300,000 restaurants organized under about 2,000 chains must comply with the new guidelines.

The FDA proposed the new rules back in 2011 and finalized them in 2014 stamping the plan with a compliance date of May 5, 2017, giving restaurants about six years to make the changes.

Wise says while he doesn’t see it as necessary, he also doesn’t see how it could be a bad thing.

“I think that it’s just important for us as a restaurant to be able to provide the information, but then provide diversity, provide choices and then let the customers make their decisions,” said Wise.

The rule also requires businesses that operate 20 or more vending machines to include calorie labeling. Local registered dietitian Staci Small says to her, that’s one of the most interesting parts of the new guidelines because of their presence in schools.

“Do I know if kids will necessarily look at that information? It’s hard to say but I think that there are some kids that are educated, especially in the high school population,” said Small.

Small also says that she thinks the new rules will be a big wake up call for coffee drinkers who likely don’t realize just how much sugar is in that daily cup of joe. She says the new standards are a good thing.

“think it’s a good step in the right directions for consumers. That information has always been there I think but for it to be right there on the menu, I think it can change some things for people,” said Small.

The FDA has set a May 5 deadline for restaurants and vending machines to comply with the new standards. For more details regarding the compliance requirements, click here.