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Counting Calories Coming to Chain Menus


On the same week that Americans supposedly consume three times the amount of recommended daily calories on Thanksgiving, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) released much-anticipated guidelines that will require chain restaurants with 20 or more locations to list calorie counts on their menus. That means that a slice of pizza from Dominos, a tub of popcorn at some movie theaters, a hot dog at Costco, or even a margarita from Chipotle will be clearly marked with caloric values by this time next year.

“It’s been a long time coming,” said Larry Fay, the county’s environmental health services director. “More of the large names are going to be subject to [the requirements] even if we only have one or two [locations] in Santa Barbara.” Fast-food joints, sit-down chain restaurants, and convenience stores that sell prepared foods will be subject to the new regulations. For instance, in Santa Barbara, this includes, among others, Outback Steakhouse, The Habit, Panera Bread, Subway, and Chili’s, which is known for having high-calorie appetizers and entrees. Its Southern Smokehouse Burger weighs in at 1,550 calories, and a full order of Texas Cheese Fries is 1,720 calories, according to nutritional information available online.

The national regulations have been on the table for several years. According to Fay, California at one time had somewhat similar labeling requirements, but the adoption of the Affordable Care Act repealed the state codes in lieu of the federal ones. Fay said these new requirements will be folded into his department’s regular inspections of food facilities.

Foods sold in vending machines will also be required to list calorie content within two years, including gumballs and mixed nuts in bulk vending machines.

A number of restaurants have already started to list calorie counts on their menus, including Starbucks, which posts calories on its menu boards — the pumpkin scone is 430 calories, and a Grande Caramel Frappuccino with whipped cream has 410 calories, for instance.

Americans consume about one-third of their calories away from the home, according to the FDA’s website. It states, “Posting calories on menus and menu boards and providing other nutrient information in writing in chain restaurants and similar retail food establishments will fill a critical information gap and help consumers make informed and healthful dietary choices.”

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