March 2014: Labels are Soooo 1990, “Thorny” food labeling law
Out With the Old, In with the...Marginally Different
Back in 1990 the FDA proposed that food companies put a standardized label on all packaged foods that informed the shopper about its nutritional value. This was a revolution. Shoppers could now compare products based on nutrition and were able to make decisions based on price, convenience and health benefits (is the old adage true: You can pick any two?). Now, after 24 years, the FDA has proposed more changes:
- Calorie counts are larger type
- Calculated serving sizes are more realistic and more prominent
- Added sugar is its own line item (this is going to be good news for fruits and veggies)
The proposal to make each label 3 feet tall was quickly rejected
However, an even more profound transformation is happening in the nutrition labeling world: personalization. By designing labels for the average American we are making the labels less useful for everybody who is not average. Technology has made personalization possible to help anyone make sense of the ingredient and nutrition panel, without having to interpret a %DV calculation or know if they need more or less fiber.
“Thorny” food labeling law for restaurants delayed by FDA
The 2010 health care law mandated the FDA to develop a framework to display calorie counts on restaurant menus and vending machines. Proposed rules were introduced in 2011 but those will not become final as the restaurant lobby looks to expand the types of exemptions. We welcome the ability for consumers to know more about their food and we hope this will be someday expanded to include nutrition upfront alongside the calorie counts but we understand that slow and steady wins the regulatory race. Nutrition information will have to be available upon request, but we doubt that many people will know to ask for it.
The biggest restaurant chains are ahead of the law, printing calorie counts on their menus, and most patrons have welcomed the information. A study from Oklahoma State University verified that the calorie claims on menus by Applebee’s, Denny’s, Burger King, and MacDonald’s, among others were fairly accurate. One solution we saw was to print the nutrition information on the receipt … clever (but of course, you’d already purchased the clam chowder by the time you realized it was 2800 calories).
Companies like healthydiningfinder.com are also going down the technology side-road. On their website, you can enter a zip code, and find nearby restaurants sorted by your dietary goal – and even look at the nutrition information of individual menu items.