How Many Calories is in that Burger? PPACA Makes Sure you know.

The National Law Review recently published an article by Molly Nicole Lewis of McBrayer, McGinnis, Leslie and Kirkland, PLLC regarding The Food Industry and The Patient Protection and Affordable Healthcare Act:


We all occasionally grab a quick bite on the go. With fall in full swing, and our schedules filling up, it is much more tempting to drive through and pick up dinner rather than slaving over the stove after a non-stop day. Consider this:  What if the menu was labeled with calorie information and you could see that the Hardee’s Thickburger you wanted to order contained 910 calories.  A healthy caloric intake for an average person is 2000 calories per day – that’s also stated on the menu.  The burger just became ½ of your daily allotment of calories. That information would definitely prompt anyone to reconsider their choices.

Menu labeling, as outlined in the Patient Protection and Affordable Health Care Act (PPACA), might actually change the way we eat, when we eat out!  That is exactly what the National Restaurant Association and the National Association of Convenience Stores is grappling with.  In the wake of the Supreme Court upholding the PPACA, it is not just the medical and insurance communities buzzing. The food industry is wadding through their own set of new rules regarding how they present their product and interact with consumers.

As outlined in Section 4205, nutritional menu labeling is required for chain restaurants across the country. The provisions include labeling requirements for restaurants and food vendors, with 20 or more outlets. Calories have to be posted on menus and menu boards, including drive-thru menus. Display tags with additional information, including fat, saturated fat, carbohydrates, sodium protein, and fiber must be available in writing, upon request. Vending machine companies that operate at least 20 machines are also subject to these requirements. For buffet-style or self-serve restaurants, a sign must be placed adjacent to each food and beverage item listing calories per item or serving.  There are some exceptions that will not require calorie disclosure. Items not listed on the menu such as condiments, daily specials or temporary offerings. If an item appears on the menu less than 60 days per calendar year, or a test market items appears on a menu for less than 90 days, they are both exempt.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) considered Section 4205 effective immediately. However, without detailed guidance from the FDA, these provisions cannot be required.  The final FDA regulations are expected by the end of 2012.  Industry implementation would become effective six months after publication, in early 2013.  If a restaurant that is not required to comply with Section 4205, voluntarily registers with the FDA and follows the federal disclosure guidelines, they are not subject to any state or local nutrition disclosure requirements.

There is more at stake here then complying with disclosure regulations. For owners and operators in the food industry there are real costs to be considered. The new menu requirements alone will demand printing new menus and menu boards. Nutritional analysis may have to be performed to accurately report the information to the consumer. All of these added expenses could mean thousands in unbudgeted expenditures, and will result in consumer behavioral changes where the full financial impact cannot be determined – until after the fact.

It is interesting to contemplate how each of us will react to menu labeling. Will it help change the health of our country? The jury’s still out, but we are eagerly anticipating the verdict.

© 2012 by McBrayer, McGinnis, Leslie & Kirkland, PLLC

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