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Counting croutons: Restaurants tally items for calorie rules

FILE – In this Sept. 12, 2012 file photo, the items on the breakfast menu, including the calories, are posted at a McDonald’s restaurant in New York. Wondering how many calories are in that hamburger? Chain restaurants still don’t have to tell you, despite a six-year-old law that the calorie labels. The Food and Drug Administration said earlier this month that the delay menu labeling rules, again, until next year. Pushback from the supermarkets and convenience stores that will be necessary to put the calorie labels on to take out the food slowed down the process. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan, File)

How can a bread basket for the table are considered to be America’s new calorie posting rules? What about seasonal items, croutons for salads or pizza that is cut in squares?

Restaurant and supermarket chains to scramble to post calorie counts on their menus for the spring have peppered the Food and Drug Administration with queries provide a window — often complex, sometimes funny — in the substance riddles, they are trying to solve.

An example: If a pizza chain gets pepperoni from multiple vendors, which calorie count should be used? The FDA advice: What is the fattiest.

“You would not be penalized for over-declaring calories versus under-declaring,” the agency responded last March, according to correspondence obtained through a public records request.

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Some cities and states already require restaurant chains to reveal the calorie counts. But the federal regulations, set to take effect in May for restaurants with 20 or more locations, the information more widely available. What’s more, it requires a convenience store and supermarket chains to start posting calories for their food.

Or President-elect, Donald Trump and the new Congress try to make any changes in the regulation, passed as part of the healthcare overhaul — is not yet known. The restaurant industry association is in favour of a national standard to a patchwork of local laws, but grocery and supermarket groups are hoping for a delay in implementation and more flexibility in how they can disclose the calorie counts.

For now, the topics addressed by the FDA to help illustrate what diners can expect to see on their menus.

Q: How should calorie counts be determined?

A: The FDA says food vendors must use a “reasonable basis for determining the calorie information.” Lab analysis is an option, but businesses can also get the information from databases, cookbooks, recipes, manufacturers, food labels, or a combination of these options.

Q: How about the bread basket? Or seasonal menu?

A: Calorie counts are not required for the items on the menu for less than 60 days per year. And in general, the restaurants do not need to refer to the calories for items that are not displayed on the menu. So a basket of dinner rolls or chips and salsa placed on a table as a courtesy would also be exempt, as would a “secret menu” items that have become trendy, in places such as Starbucks.

Q: A circular pizza is divided into a “party-cut” grid, in place of the traditional segments. Can the chain an average calorie-counting, although the pieces are different sizes?

A: initially, the FDA told a Chicago-based pizza chain would have to declare calories for the entire pizza, as the pieces were not uniform. But Marla Topliff, president of Rosati’s Pizza, said the agency subsequently agreed to the chain to post calories for an average piece into a party-cut pie. Topliff said that to a list of calories for a whole cake would be unfair to a party-cut pies, as traditionally sliced pies were recorded per segment.

“You could see where they would be a disadvantage,” she said.

Q: How should the calories be included for customizable dishes? For example, a fast-food salad that can come with grilled or fried chicken, a bag of croutons and several dressing options.

A: Giving a range would be OK, with the top including the most calorie options (yes, including the croutons).

But even if they comply with the regulations, some restaurant operators to ask how useful a large distance would be.

“The value is sort of lost on the consumer, if you tell the consumer the offer would be 400 to 1,200 calories,” Annica Kreider, a representative for Mellow Mushroom, an Atlanta-based pizza chain, said in a telephone interview.

She was one of those who by e-mail with the FDA.

Q: For supermarkets, how should sizes be determined at hot food bars where people serve themselves?

A: The FDA said cutlery, such as spoons that scoop a consistent amount each time can be considered as a portion. With utensils such as a pair of pliers, the size of the portion to be by a weight or a common household measure, such as a half cup. Those serving sizes and corresponding calorie counts would have to be included in the area of food, such as on the sneeze guard glass or on a plate.

Q: What happens at self-serve drink stations?

A: The calorie counts are not right on the liquor-pipes, but must be visible by the dispenser. What should be noted for filled cups without ice. The idea is to provide information to maximize the amount of calories people can drink a lot.

For fountain drinks are filled behind the counter, restaurants can list the calorie count for a cup with ice cream — as long as the restaurant always puts a standard amount of ice in the cups.

Q: calorie counts need to be included on the coupons? “The issue of the coupons is a source of confusion and uncertainty,” a legal lawyer wrote.

A: No. Coupons, are generally regarded as marketing materials that do not require calorie information.

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