Mandatory Alcohol Calorie Count to Hit 2015 Menus

Last updated on November 4th, 2019

Most people aren’t counting calories when ordering drinks, but that could all change next year. New menu labeling rules from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) will require chain restaurants with 20 outlets or more to list the caloric content of all food and alcoholic beverages by no later than November 2015.

What’s Included in the Labels?

Proposed menu labeling rules by the FDA in 2011 didn’t include alcohol, but FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg said the change was made in the last few months because of the impact it could have on public health.

However, caloric content for alcohol beverages will not have to be made readily available for drinks ordered at the bar. Wine lists and drinks not listed on the main menu are also exempt from the new policy, and most bottles and cans of alcohol will not be required to list full nutritional information.

“Alcoholic beverages are a key contributor to the calories Americans are consuming,” said Margo Wootan of the Center for Science in the Public Interest. “Most of the time when people have a drink, they have absolutely no idea what it’s caloric impact is.”

Most of the time when people have a drink, they have absolutely no idea what it’s caloric impact is.-Margo Wootan

Meeting Industry Resistance

The beer, wine and spirits industries have protested the new policy because they are regulated by the Treasury and not the FDA. Some companies have also expressed concern about the cost of paying to have their nutritional content analyzed, while some small craft breweries believe that laying out their caloric content could be damaging for business.

But the FDA claims the new rules were made so that they aren’t damaging or time consuming to either restaurants or the alcohol industry. Restaurants may use estimates without listing the exact amount in each drink or brand of alcohol, meaning they could give a caloric estimate for a glass of red wine instead of listing the calorie content for all available red wines.

Paul Gatza of the Brewers Association even says he believes the new labeling mandates could help small craft breweries because “the more customers know about a brewery, the more they feel connected with it.”

Understanding What’s in a Drink

The new nutrition labeling policy will also help to streamline what currently is a decidedly complicated process.

As it stands currently, wines with an alcohol volume of 14 percent or greater must list their alcohol content, while those in the 7 to 14 percent range can simply label their product as “light” or “table” wine. Confusing that process, however, all “light” beers must list calorie and carbohydrate content. Liquors, on the other hand, are required to list percentage alcohol content and volume, regardless of how strong or light the product is.
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