Sometime in the next 5 days, the Supreme Court is going to deliver its opinion(s) on the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, or what is commonly referred to as PPACA or health care reform. While the opinions will be focused on the arguments surrounding the individual mandate, severability and some Medicaid issues, I’m hoping that some of the lesser known clauses are not dismantled or slashed in the process. For instance, health care reform created funding for improved graduate medical education and put some pretty strict rules in place regarding menu labeling.
The menu labeling requirement (found in section 4205 of PPACA) basically says that nutrition information such as calories, protein content and amount of total fat must be placed directly on menus and menu boards of restaurants, retail food establishments, and vending machine operations that are part of chains with 20 or more locations.
Even better (or worse?) they need to provide you with the information for menu items that can be difficult to calculate, such as a combo meal with numerous choices or a pizza with multiple toppings. There are exceptions of course, for seasonal items (on a menu for less than 60 days), daily specials and custom orders. I guess that means the Shamrock Shake info won’t be making it to the menu board.
There are not exceptions for buffets (they still need to tell you how many fat grams are in that kung pao chicken), cafeterias, or drive through menus. There will, however, probably be exceptions for establishments where food sales are less than 50% of revenue, such as airports or movie theatres.
Restaurants and vending machine operators have been given opportunities to pose questions and comments to the FDA in the years since PPACA was enacted, in order to best discuss how to provide this information without costing restaurants an exorbitant amount of money. Rest assured, menu changes are still expensive, but as you can guess there was a lot of discussion surrounding the implementation of nutrition information for vending machines, as the information has to be provided prior to purchase, not after.
So now what? On the government’s side the FDA has issued guidance documents to the industry on how to implement these new requirements, and there have been some proposed rules, which will in theory be amended as final rules sometime in the future. On the retail side, things are more complicated.
Some chain restaurants implemented the rules early: you can’t go to Panera without being told exactly how bad that cinnamon crunch bagel is. The City of Philadelphia has petitioned the FDA for an exemption from the rules, arguing that their city ordinance on the topic is largely in line with the federal requirements, but has a few more requirements and was put into place to battle the city’s overwhelmingly poor health statistics in comparison to other large metropolitan areas.
And now national pizza chains have come together to fight the rules. They claims that since 90% of their orders come over the phone and online, they shouldn’t be forced to take on the cost of updating their in-store menus.
How do you feel about menu labeling? Would nutrition information make you think twice before you order, or would you ignore it in order to eat what you want? I know that the realization that my favorite entree at Chili’s (my chain restaurant of choice) is worth more than an entire day’s calorie allotment would definitely encourage me to order something lighter, but others view it as superflous or “Big Brother” style information. Cities and counties that already have menu labeling requirements on a more local level have reported mixed success with the results.
What do you think?
Daisy is a lawyer married to a lawyer (insert lawyer jokes here) living in a small condo in a big city with a new baby and beagle. She breaks up the legal-speak by blogging about life in Chicago, which is filled with escapades of urban living. In the summer she enjoys patio dining and in the winter wonders what she was thinking when she moved here. You can read more from Daisy on her blog, Just Daisy.
image via cspinet