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FDA to require calories listed at restaurants, coffee shops

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Waitresses prepare to deliver breakfasts to customers.Photograph by Justin Sullivan — Getty Images

The Food and Drug Administration is now requiring the nation’s restaurants and coffee shops to list calories on the items on their menus, information the government agency said can help Americans make healthier eating decisions.

Sit-down and fast-food restaurants, as well as bakeries, coffee shops, and some restaurant-quality foods sold at grocery and convenience stores will be required to list their calories after the FDA issued two final rules on the issue. Menu labeling rules will also impact take-out and delivery foods, such as pizza, as well as drive-throughs, foods that are served from a salad or hot-food bar, and alcoholic cocktails when they appear on menus.

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

The jury is still out on if that is true. As Huffington Post reported last year, some studies have found that many patrons don’t even notice the calorie counts on menus, and even if they do, it doesn’t seem to change what they ordered or how frequently they visit a particular restaurant.

The nation’s cities and restaurants have been tinkering with the idea of posting calorie count information for a while now. New York City began to require restaurants and coffee chains to list calories on their menus back in 2008. And some major chains, such as McDonald’s (MCD), have taken it upon themselves to do so nationally without being required to.

The FDA’s new rules will take effect in one year for restaurants, applying to chains that have 20 or more locations and that are doing business under the same name, offer basically the same menu items and sell “restaurant-type food.” The rules impacting vending machines will take effect in two years, and cover vending machines if their operator owns or operates 20 or more of them. For vending machines under the new rules, the calories would be listed on the front of the package or a sign or sticker near the food or selection button.

There were a few exceptions. Foods sold at deli counters, as well as bottles of liquor behind the bar and foods sold on menus in schools and in airplanes and trains were exempt from the FDA’s final rules.