FDA requires calorie counts for cocktails, theater popcorn, vended food

Calorie counts
New FDA rules will require chain restaurants, movie theaters, bars and vending machines to clearly display calorie counts for items. Pictured is a menu at a Taco Bell in Flushing, N.Y.
(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)

When you’re sipping a cocktail, too often the last thing on your mind is how many calories are in your martini glass. The same goes for when you’re ferociously shoveling handfuls of popcorn into your mouth at a movie theater.

Well, the Food and Drug Administration is about to change that. 

On Tuesday, the FDA issued two rules requiring the operators of chain restaurants, movie theaters and vending machines to clearly display calorie information for food and drink products. This includes calorie counts for movie theater popcorn and other items at concession stands, cocktails on a drink menu and more.

The rules are new additions to the menu labeling law passed in March 2010 as part of the Affordable Care Act. 


“Americans eat and drink about one-third of their calories away from home,” said FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg in a statement. “These final rules will give consumers more information when they are dining out and help them lead healthier lives.”

The new rules will require retail food establishments with 20 or more locations doing business under the same name to clearly post calorie counts. Those establishments include sit-down and fast-food restaurants, bakeries, coffee shops and restaurant-type food in some grocery and convenience stores. 

The rules also apply to take-out and delivery foods, including pizza, food purchased at drive-through windows and food you serve yourself at a salad or hot-food bar. 

Vending machine operators will have to clearly display calorie information on products by either listing them on the front of the package or on a sign or sticker near the food item or the selection button. 


Restaurants will have one year to comply with the new rules; vending machine operators will have two years.

The National Restaurant Assn., which represents nearly 1 million food establishments and more than 13 million restaurant industry employees, is backing the new rules. 

“The National Restaurant Association strongly believes in the importance of providing nutrition information to consumers to empower them to make the best choices for their dietary needs,” the organization said in a statement. “We believe that the Food and Drug Administration has positively addressed the areas of greatest concern with the proposed regulations and is providing the industry with the ability to implement the law in a way that will most benefit consumers.”

The new rules also will require the size of the type of the calorie counts to be no smaller than the name or price of the corresponding menu item. If you’re at a salad bar, the calorie information will need to be displayed near the food, and the following reminder will need to posted: “2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice, but calorie needs vary." 

Not covered under the new rules are foods sold at deli counters, bottles of liquor displayed behind a bar, food in transportation vehicles and foods on menus in schools. 

A movie without popcorn is simply unacceptable. Follow me on Twitter @Jenn_Harris


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