Starting January 1, 2009, all restaurants with more then 15 locations nationwide are required to list calories, saturated fat, carbohydrates and sodium in the menu or at every table. And trans fats have to be eliminated by February 1, 2009 that makes it all the better!
County, restaurants strike deal on menus
Nutrition data required only at largest chains
By CHERIE BLACK
Nutritional information on chain restaurant menus in King County won't be required for nearly nine more months, and then only for the largest chains, the local health board decided Wednesday in a compromise that also promises to keep the issue out of court.
Consumers will have nutritional information on drive-through menu boards, too, the board decided.
Julia Patterson, chairwoman of the King County Board of Health and the King County Council, said King County is the first jurisdiction in the nation to negotiate an agreement with the restaurant industry.
"This is an amazing day for the consumer ... it is one tool in the toolbox for fighting the obesity epidemic," Patterson said. "We will provide consumers the information they need."
The regulations raise the number of restaurants required to be a chain from 10 to 15, eliminating hundreds of restaurants from the mandate. The Washington Restaurant Association argued that smaller chains would have trouble affording the changes made to menus. Restaurants no longer are required to relabel menus to list trans fat, though they must still label calories, saturated fat, carbohydrate and sodium content. The board also will look at ways to help restaurants pay for relabeling menus and other costs, Patterson said.
The deadline for restaurants to comply was extended to Jan. 1, 2009. The board also eliminated any penalties for not making the deadline as long as restaurants have written proof they are in the process of complying.
The regulations will be enforced by restaurant inspectors and included in their regular inspections. Restaurants that don't comply will receive points against them.
"Both sides feel passionate about this issue and I'm satisfied we've reached common ground," said Trent House, government relations director for the Washington Restaurant Association. "We're hopeful our restaurants will comply with this."
The board and the Washington Restaurant Association reached the agreement on several amendments to the original menu labeling mandate passed last July that required chain restaurants with more than 10 national locations to display calorie, fat, trans fat, sodium and carbohydrate information on menus by Aug. 1, 2008, and ordered restaurants to ban trans fats by February 2009.
The issues were hotly debated for more than a year and a half. The association opposed both mandates saying most restaurants in the area had already eliminated trans fats from foods and that menu labeling wouldn't be effective without consumer education.
Plus, the association said, it would cost too much for restaurants to relabel menus because the health department won't help pay for it. The department insisted the cost would be significantly less than what restaurant owners have cited.
When the Legislature threatened to pre-empt any local board of health from making policy on menu labeling, King County initiated negotiations with the Washington Restaurant Association to find a compromise.
For restaurants with menus: Instead of posting nutrition information directly next to the item on menus, restaurants can choose to provide information with menu inserts or appendixes, supplemental menus or electronic kiosks available at each table.
For restaurants with menu boards: Calorie information, originally required to be placed directly on menu boards, can be provided through readable signs that are adjacent to the menu board, and/or easily seen while in line waiting to order.
Expanding the ability of restaurants to use other means of providing information to customers if they can show that these other methods are as effective at relaying nutritional information as menu labeling.
Increasing the minimum number of national locations needed to qualify as a chain from 10 to 15, exempting about 1,500 restaurants in King County.
Increasing the minimum number of days a food item must be on the menu to require labeling from 60 to 90 days in a calendar year.
Eliminating the requirement for trans fat labeling, but restaurants must still show calories, saturated fat, carbohydrate and sodium content. Trans fats will be eliminated from all restaurants by February 2009 as mandated by a separate piece of legislation.
Excluding grocery stores and convenience stores from the requirements.
P-I reporter Cherie Black can be reached at 206-448-8180 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Read her To Your Health blog at blog.seattlepi.com/toyourhealth.
Cross posted to a couple of different groups.