Menu labeling will take effect soon
August 13, 2008
By Emily Keller
Law is in effect, but restaurants have until January to implement
menu labeling law passed by the King County Board of Health has had minimal impact on some fast food restaurants in Sammamish since it took effect August 1.
The law applies to chain restaurants with 15 or more locations nationwide that have gross annual revenues of $1 million or more, standardized menus and recipes and operating permits with Seattle and King County”s public health boards.
The legislation requires chain restaurants to label the calories, sodium, saturated fat and carbohydrate content of items that are on the menu for more than 90 days. They must post the calorie information on the menu board next to the items, on signs next to the menu board or on a sign within eye level of the board.
The law also requires the restaurants to post additional nutrition information in a clear and visible format where customers order the items. Restaurants must post the calorie information in a print size that is at least as large as the price of the items, said Matias Valenzuela, a spokesperson for the King County Board of Health.
Valenzuela said the board had initially intended for the standard to apply to chains of 10 or more restaurants, but raised the number to 15 to please the Washington Restaurant Association.
The board also amended the original regulation, which it had passed on July 19, 2007, to allow restaurants to post calories on a sign board next to the menu board rather than requiring them to post it on the menu board itself. The board passed the current version of the regulation on Mar. 12, 2008.
Although the law took effect Aug. 1, violations will not be issued until Jan. 1, 2009 to give restaurants time to print new menus. The penalty for labeling violations will be five points against the restaurants.
Restaurants that accumulate more than 100 points face the risk of being closed down.
In Sammamish the chain restaurants that will be required to comply with the regulation include Taco Time, McDonalds, Cold Stone Creamery, Jack In The Box, Papa John”s and Subway Salads and Sandwiches, among others. Those surveyed had not made any immediate changes in response to the law going into effect.
Mike Frizzell, Portland-based marketing director for Papa John”s pizzerias in the Seattle area, said the company is working on developing a new overhead menu with the required information and expects to install the menus in several months. The design work has been challenging, Frizzell said, since the company must make it clear on the signs that the information posted applies to each pizza slice rather than an entire pie, which requires words like “per slice” in addition to the numbers.
“Because it”s a group-purchased food we have to use more room on our board. It has been a little bit of a barrier,” he said.
Papa John”s, which has a restaurant at 721 228th Avenue Northeast, has offered nutritional information brochures in the lobbies of its restaurants for the past year, Frizzell said. Those brochures also contain allergy information, which Frizzell said is as important to provide for customers at fast food restaurants as nutritional information.
“I get more inquiries on gluten and peanuts,” Frizzell said, than about nutritional content. “People know they”re consuming some calories. It”s not diet food.”
Other chain restaurants in Sammamish also reported no immediate changes.
Jack In The Box, 620 228th Avenue Northeast, keeps a brochure behind its counter containing a list of ingredients and nutrition information for 48 products.
That change was made in response to another Board of Health ban on margarine
and trans fats that took effect May 1 and requires restaurants to change its fry oils by Feb. 1, 2009.
Jack In The Box products, according to that nutritional guide, include a 24-ounce Oreo cookie ice cream shake with 1290 calories and 67 grams of fat and a Bacon Ultimate Cheeseburger with 1040 calories and 73 grams of fat.
Allan Mullen, a manager at the McDonalds at 615 228th Avenue, said his restaurant has not made any changes in response to the law since the restaurant has displayed nutrition information on the back of every tray liner for the past three years.
“That hasn”t actually come down the line yet,” Mullen said about the regulation requiring restaurants to display nutrition information on sign boards at the counter.
Debbie Chaney, owner of Cold Stone Creamery at 22830 Northeast 8th Street, said her ice cream shop has always provided nutritional information to customers and has posted the information on menu boards for several months already. She offered tentative support for the new law and even stronger support for the trans fat ban.
“I think it”s a good thing that we want to keep our customers healthy. I just feel bad for restaurants that have to make a lot of costly changes,” Chaney said.
The city”s Taco Time and Starbucks restaurants both provide nutritional brochures on or near their registers but have not yet posted the information on sign boards. Taco Time menu items include a Beef Mexi-Platter with 1,169 calories, 62 grams of fat and 23 grams of fiber and a 724-calorie Veggie Roma Burrito.
Starbucks items include Café Mocha drinks, which contains a range of 170-320 calories without whipped cream, and Frappuccino coffee drinks, which contain a range of 180-550 calories and 0-11 grams of fat.
Reporter Emily Keller can be reached at 392-6434, ext. 242, or firstname.lastname@example.org.