Restaurants get at least a year reprieve on calorie posts
Fast-food aficionados can enjoy at least another year of blissful ignorance about the food they eat, including the fact that a large order of fries and ketchup may contain more than 500 calories.
Establishments with at least 20 locations in Massachusetts were supposed to post calorie information on menus or menu boards by Nov. 1, but the federal health care overhaul passed in March includes a similar requirement that supersedes the state rules adopted last year.
The US Food and Drug Administration has one year to formulate uniform national regulations. But Suzanne Condon, the director of the state Bureau of Environmental Health, said yesterday that it remains unclear when the federal law will be implemented and enforced.
The federal law requires all chain restaurants with more than 20 locations in the United States and operators of 20 or more vending machines to display calorie counts for each offering.
Although the Massachusetts regulation did not apply to vending machines, it did specify that a licensed dietician or nutritionist verify the calorie counts for all menu items. The federal law states only that restaurants must have a “reasonable basis’’ for calculating calorie totals.
Condon presented a proposal to rescind the state regulation at yesterday’s meeting of the Public Health Council, an appointed body of doctors, public health specialists, and consumer advocates. The action is required by the federal law, but the state must hold a public hearing before voting to amend the regulations.
Helen Caulton-Harris, a member of the council and director of Health and Human Services in Springfield, said the delay is a letdown because it means the state has to “take a step back.’’
Peter Christie, president and CEO of the Massachusetts Restaurant Association, said chain operators are pleased. “Every single jurisdiction that has passed menu labeling to date, it’s different,’’ he said. “And when you’re a multistate operator, that wreaks havoc.’’
The FDA has consulted cities and states — including Massachusetts — that have experience with regulations governing calorie postings.
On Tuesday, the agency hosted a conference call during which Condon and other officials advised the FDA about avoiding “problems that we foresaw and other states and cities have had to wrestle with,’’ Condon said.
The council yesterday also approved final rules directing restaurants to post a notice on menus and menu boards that instructs customers with a food allergy to inform the server.
The benefit of the regulation is that it “forces a dialogue about this between the consumer and the food establishment,’’ Condon said.
By Oct. 1, all establishments must post the allergy notice on menus and display in their employee work areas a poster detailing major food allergens.
The rules, mandated by a state law passed in January 2009, also specify the required certification and allergy awareness training that at least one staff member of every restaurant must complete by Feb. 1, 2011.
Patrick G. Lee can be reached at email@example.com.