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    Calorie Counts Required Under New Health Care Law

    Any restaurant with 20 or more locations must post nutritional information.

    WASHINGTON, D.C. -- A requirement tucked into the nation's massive health care law will make calorie counts impossible to hide for thousands of restaurants and difficult for consumers to ignore. More than 200,000 fast food and other chain restaurants will have to include calorie counts on their menus, menu boards and even at drive-thrus under the newly signed legislation, according to a report by The Associated Press.

    The new law, which applies to any restaurant with 20 or more locations, directs the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to create a new national standard for menu labeling, superseding a growing number of state and city laws.

    The idea is to make sure that customers process the calorie information as they are ordering. Many restaurants currently post nutritional information in a hallway, on a hamburger wrapper or on their Web site. The new law will make calories immediately available for most items, the AP report stated.

    "The nutrition information is right on the menu or menu board next to the name of the menu item, rather than in a pamphlet or in tiny print on a poster, so that consumers can see it when they are making ordering decisions," said Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin, chairman of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, who wrote the provision.

    It was added to the health bill with the support of the restaurant industry, which is facing varying laws from different cities and states. Sue Hensley of the National Restaurant Association believes this will help restaurants better respond to their customers. "That growing patchwork of regulations and legislation in different parts of the country has been a real challenge, and this will allow operators to better be able to provide their information," she said.

    Some meals will be exempt, including specials on the menu less than 60 days, while other nutritional information in addition to calories will have to be available elsewhere in the restaurants. The law will also apply to foods sold in vending machines, specifically those that do not have visible calorie listings on the front of the package.

    The requirements will be enforced by the FDA, with the possibility of criminal penalties for non-compliance. The FDA will have a year to write the new rules.

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