New Alcohol Labeling Laws Loom

Do you know how many calories are in your most popular cocktail?

If not, it’s time to figure that one out. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) later this year will require disclosure of calorie content for standard drink menu items in restaurants and similar retail food establishments that are part of a chain with 20 or more locations. Seeing nutrition information on menus at fast food restaurants and on most products is common, but now establishments that sell prepared foods and have 20 or more locations have to reveal how many calories are in their food and drink.

By the December 1, 2015, deadline, the rule covers anything listed on a menu or menu board, including alcohol. Someone at each restaurant unit will be responsible for appropriate documentation that proves the requirements are met.

The FDA definition includes online menus, and encompasses writings that operators may not traditionally think of as menus. For example, if a restaurant advertises or promotes a menu item that includes its name or image as well as its price, and it is something a customer could use exclusively to make a purchasing decision, it's included whether it’s listed on the standard menu or not.

Alcohol not listed on a menu is exempt from the FDA rule, which has led to some confusion about which drinks will need to be listed and when. For instance, if an item is available for 60 days or fewer or in one location, it's exempt, including limited-time offers, seasonal selections, daily specials, and draft beers that are on rotation for fewer than eight weeks.

The rules don't apply to drinks ordered at the bar or any drinks that aren't listed on the main menu. The wine list won’t need to list individual calorie amounts. Unlike other beverages and foods, most bottles and cans of alcohol don't have to list full nutritional information.

Endless combinations of mixed drinks won't have to be labeled at bars, unless they are listed on a menu, and the FDA is allowing restaurants to use estimates of calories and ranges of calories without listing the exact amount in every different drink. That means menus are required to list the average amount of calories in a glass of red or white wine, but won't have to list calories by every brand of wine on the wine list unless they choose to do so. Same with beers and spirits. But this may only be the start. After years of lobbying for more nutritional information on alcoholic beverages, public health advocates say the menu labeling rules are a first step.

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