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Calorie counts appearing on fast-food menus in California

State law that goes into effect Saturday requires calorie counts to be displayed at restaurants with 20 or more locations in California. But federal guidelines expected in March will supersede California's.

December 30, 2010|By Sharon Bernstein, Los Angeles Times
  • McDonalds has had calorie counts posted on its menus for about a week. Above, a restaurant at Fishermans Wharf in San Francisco.
McDonalds has had calorie counts posted on its menus for about a week. Above,… (Eric Risberg, Associated…)

There's something new on the McDonald's menu in California, but it's not a food item.

Up on the menu boards, above the counters, there are additional numbers by each selection and in small letters the notation "Cal."

The numbers are the calorie counts for the items. A long-awaited state law, which goes into effect Jan. 1, said they have to be included on the menus of restaurants with 20 or more locations in California. In addition to McDonald's, the calorie counts are in place at IHOP and Fuddruckers outlets. Other chains, including California Pizza Kitchen, said the counts would be in place by Saturday.

The Los Angeles County restaurants that don't have them by New Year's Day won't be busted, however. The county has joined most others in the state that say they won't be enforcing the measure, passed two years ago, because federal guidelines set to be released in March will supersede the state regulation.

"These restaurant operators should not have to make up new menu boards and then make them again in March," said Angelo Bellomo, director of environmental health for Los Angeles County.

The federal regulations will cover more restaurant chains and more items, including alcoholic beverages. U.S. officials have not said whether the calorie numbers on menu listings will have to be displayed differently.

McDonald's confirmed that the calorie counts have been on its menu boards at many of its locations in the state for about a week, but it declined further comment.

Brad Ritter, a spokesman for Sizzler USA, said the chain would start posting calorie counts on its menus in California at the end of January. "Sizzler supports reasonable efforts to help guests access nutritional information," he said. "Starting Jan. 31, Sizzler will list calorie counts on menu boards while it awaits final direction from the state and federal governments."

McDonald's employees, who didn't have permission to be quoted on the subject, said some customers opened their eyes wide when they saw the high numbers, while others seemed not to notice.

Mitch Kenney strode up to the counter Wednesday to order Sausage McMuffin sandwich meals, including hash browns, for his son and a friend, both 10. According to the "Cal" numbers on the board, the meals contained 1,050 calories each — more than half the daily requirement for boys of that age. Kenney said he hadn't noticed the numbers, but it probably wouldn't have made a difference if he had.

"It's a special occasion," he said, pointing out that the boys had had a sleepover and were going out for a special breakfast.

Nearby, Gary Jacoby of Porter Ranch sat with his 7-year-old grandniece, Alexis. The two sipped orange juice (190 calories for a medium cup) as they waited for the restaurant to start serving lunch. They planned to order chicken nuggets, fries and a drink for Alexis, for a total of about 600 calories.

Jacoby, 72, said he hadn't realized that the numbers on the menu boards were calorie counts. Still, he approved of the law, and of the chain's decision to post the counts now, rather than waiting.

"I'm starting to look at the calories on boxes and labels, and also trying to keep the sodium down," he said.

sharon.bernstein@latimes.com

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