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Oct. 7, 2010

Cafeterias post nutritional facts

by Philipa Friedman, Print Managing News Editor
Schools in Montgomery County are now required to post calorie information for all menu items in accordance with a new County Council legislation effected on July 1 of this year.

Cafeterias in MCPS are required to post calorie counts. Tolu Omokehinde
Cafeterias in MCPS are required to post calorie counts.
The legislation also requires that other information be available to potential customers in writing upon request. According to Amanda Mihill, a legislative analyst for the County Council, this additional nutrition information is similar to that displayed on food labels on anything that can be purchased in a grocery store.

The nutrition facts enumerated in the bill that must be available in writing include calories, calories from fat, cholesterol, sodium, total carbohydrates, complex carbohydrates, sugars, fiber and protein.

Bill number 19-07, introduced by Councilmembers George Leventhal and Duchy Trachtenberg, states that all "eating and drinking establishments" in Montgomery County must post nutrition information for the food they serve, most specifically in terms of calorie content. According to Mihill, "The law is specifically applicable to chains that have 20 locations in the US operating under the same trade name and offering substantially the same menu items."

The bill states that the required nutrition information must be printed either next to or underneath the menu item to which it applies. The typeface used must also be at least as large as the font used for name of the menu item. The remainder of the nutrition information need only be available for a customer to read if he or she should request it.

According to Leventhal, schools must comply with the regulations, as there are more than 20 schools across the county and all of them serve the same entrées.

According to Principal Darryl Williams, Blair has been taking its cues from local restaurants in displaying its calorie information in high traffic areas. "We put it in some visible areas and try to educate our kids," he said. "This is another way of trying to educate students about the nutrition of our lunches."

The calorie information for Blair's entrées is now displayed at the entrance to both lunch lines and the other required nutrition information can be requested in the lunch lines. This other information includes, by law, calories, calories from fat, total fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, sodium, total carbohydrates, complex carbohydrates, sugars, fiber and protein.

According to Mihill, there are some items served in franchises for which the establishment is not required to provide nutrition information. Items that are on the menu for fewer than 60 days, test items on the menu for fewer than 90 days and daily specials are not required to have accompanying nutrition information, she said.

According to Leventhal, this new legislation puts Montgomery County at the forefront of what has become a national push for making smarter choices when eating out. Within the next two years, he said, the federal government will enact legislation similar to the County Council bill.

The bill states that a certain margin of error is acceptable when calculating the nutrition information of a certain menu item based on a 2,000 calorie diet. The bill allows for no more than a 20 percent margin of error or the margin of error allowed by the federal government, whichever is smaller. "Our law defers to the federal law," she said. The federal margin of error is subject to change within the next two years, however, in light of the new federal labeling law.

Although there has been no data collected on whether or not the new law has been effective in helping consumers make healthier choices, Leventhal expressed high hopes that his legislation would make it easier for people to make smart decisions when eating out.



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