Culinary no-no #514

Your dining experince is about to change very soon. Mandatory calorie counts on menu items will become mandatory nationwide.

Some food places have already been doing this.

But on May 5, 2017, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) will offcially begin enforcing the new rule.

Who’s affected?

Any business with 20 or more locations selling “restaurant-type food,” or food that’s typically eaten soon after purchase, must comply.  The list includes bakeries, cafeterias, coffee shops, convenience stores, delicatessens, food service facilities and concession stands located within entertainment venues (such as amusement parks, bowling alleys, and movie theatres), food service vendors (such as ice cream shops and mall cookie counters), food takeout or delivery establishments (such as pizza takeout and delivery establishments), grocery stores, retail confectionary stores, superstores, quick service restaurants and table service restaurants.

Calorie data must be displayed next to a food item’s name or price, and there’s a lecture requirement as well. The menu also has to include with the numbers a short statement about suggested caloric intake — generally about 2,000 calories a day, though that varies from person to person.

On the surface this sounds like it will work marvels.

Diner sees menu. Diner sees calorie count. Diner gets scared off. Diner orders something else, something that appears healthier. The trend sweeps the nation. America suddenly becomes less obese.

It’s not that simple.

To get around the new rule watch for restaurants to try to game the system by pushing their lowest-calorie items to make their numbers look better. An example: dressing-free salad.

Restaurants will also respond by adding healthier choices. They won’t eliminate fatty favorites, like Fettucini Alfredo with Chicken at the Cheesecake Factory.

That’s a whopping 2,050 calories and 58 g of fat on that plate.

Restaurants “will do what they have to do, but they’re not going to compromise the brand. People can walk into a fast-food restaurant with good intentions, and when they get there good intentions go out the window sometimes,” said Bonnie Riggs, restaurant industry analyst for NPD Group.

More findings that suggest this won’t be worthwhile. Not all customers even see the calorie labels. Depending on which study you read more than 70% will never notice the labels.

And get this. Nearly every researcher has failed to discover a significant difference between the labels and the number of calories ordered.

“Part of what we’ve found is people tend to look at the good choices and then go back to their standard,” said Paco Underhill,  chief executive of consulting firm Envirosell. “There’s a difference between what they think they do, or what they would like to do, and what they actually do.”

Think about it. If you’re out on a Friday or Saturday night in Wisconsin , you might have decided on your drive to the restaurant that you’re having the fish fry or the prime rib. Supporters of the new rule are hoping that diners will then see the calorie information and use it to determine their choices the next time they eat out.

Here’s the major problem with these mandatory calorie counts: There are no guarantees.

David Asch, an M.D. who also holds an MBA and is a professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School and Perelman School of Medicine said, “There are a bunch of assumptions that are baked into this food labeling: that people will read food labels, that they’ll understand them and that they’ll be consistent with their goals and values.”

Now toss in the fact that the numbers may not be accurate and your souffle may have just sank.

In a 2011 study published in JAMA, researchers went to restaurants that had menu labeling, bought food and took it to the lab to measure its calorie content. They found that while menus were, on average, pretty accurate, substantial variation existed. About 20 percent of foods purchased had at least 100 more calories than what was reported. This discrepancy continued when researchers repeated the purchases and measurements later.

“Calorie labeling and food labeling in general is incredibly well-meaning,” said Asch.“But it requires an extremely stepwise, rational model of decision making for it to actually work. A break in any way along that chain will limit its effectiveness.”

Too many could be, maybe, hopefully terms are part of the equation to erase the doubts. Are you surprised? You shouldn’t be. Not when the government gets involved.


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One thought on “Culinary no-no #514

  1. Pingback: UPDATE: Culinary no-no #514 | This Just In… From Franklin, WI

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