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Nutrition labels are taking the guesswork out of making healthier choices when eating out. While it's probably no surprise that a bacon double cheeseburger isn't the healthiest item on the menu, it may come as a shock that items like salads and smoothies can be even higher in saturated fat and calories. How many of us would guess that a chicken caesar salad could have more than 800 calories? That's more calories than a 6-inch steak and cheese sub sandwich.

The King County Board of Health's nutrition labeling regulation requires some chain food restaurants permitted by Public Health - Seattle & King County to provide calorie, saturated fat, carbohydrate and sodium information to customers.

Read the regulation and code

More about nutrition labeling in King County

Nutrition information must be provided by chain food establishments with all of the following criteria to be affected by the regulation:

  • Has 15 or more locations in King County or nationwide that has the same name (this regulation does not affect food establishments with 14 or fewer locations)
  • Has operating permits from Public Health - Seattle & King County
  • Total gross annual revenues of $1 million or more
  • Has standardized menu items that use standard recipes

Why chain food establishments?

Chain food establishments use standardized menus and recipes across many locations. Their standard menu item recipes usually remain fairly constant. Labeling the menus in these chain food establishments is a practical and efficient approach that can reach many people. This enables customers to make informed decisions using the nutrition information at the point of purchasing.

The legislation passed by the King County Board of Health requires the chain food establishments that fit under the regulations to provide nutrition menu labeling for standard menu items on the menu for more than 90 days. The required nutrition information includes total calories, milligrams of sodium and saturated fat and carbohydrate.

Food establishments with a menu board (overhead menu), must provide calorie information in one of the following ways: on the menu board next to each standard menu item, on an easy-to-read sign posted next to the menu board or on a sign located at eye level while in line. Calories must be displayed in a typeface similar to other information about each menu item and no smaller than nine-point font. Since menu boards provide calorie information only, information for the other three nutrients must be available in a clear and visible format at the point of ordering.

Menus

Chain food establishments that fit the criteria established by the regulation are required to provide the nutrition information (calories, saturated fat, carbohydrates and sodium) either on their menus next to each menu item in a similar size font (at least 9 pt. font size) or as an insert, appendix, supplemental menu or electronic kiosk at the table.

Menu Boards

Chain food establishments with menu boards are required to post calories for each menu item in a similar type of lettering as the other item information and in no smaller than nine-point font. Calorie information can be made available on the menu board next to each standard menu item, on an easy-to-read sign posted next to the menu board or on a sign located at eye level while in line.

The remaining nutrition information (saturated fat, carbohydrate and sodium) must be clearly visible and available in a pamphlet, brochure, poster or other format at the point of ordering.

Drive-through window nutrition labeling

  • In a drive-through ordering window, calories are to be posted on the menu board or on a sign in queue in accordance with the King County nutrition labeling regulation requirements.

  • The required Dietary Statement may be provided on the menu board or sign in queue or printed along with the other additional required nutrition information on a poster, pamphlet or similar document.

  • The additional required nutrition information (carbohydrate, sodium and saturated fat) must be available at the first window or another location in the drive-through queue that customers can easily access:

    The options for placement of a brochure, pamphlet or poster with nutrition information are:
    • Customer self-service brochure holder
    • Easily readable and easily accessible poster containing nutrition information at a drive through window
    • Brochure visible to customers in a brochure holder inside drive through window requiring staff to provide to customer as needed
    • Printed on take out bags in drive-through or include with each order
    • The drive-through menu board, sign in queue or at first window states: "Nutrition information available at window"

Restaurants may choose to use one of the following approved alternative methods to provide nutrition information at the point of ordering:

  • Menu insert
  • Menu appendix
  • Supplemental menu
  • Electronic kiosk

If using an approved alternative, restaurants must state on each page of the menu where the nutrition information is located. For example, "Nutrition information is available in the appendix at the back of the menu."

All printed material must include the following dietary statement: "The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend limiting saturated fat to 20 grams and sodium to 2,300 milligrams for a typical adult eating 2,000 calories daily. Recommended limits may be higher or lower depending upon daily calorie consumption."

Providing basic nutrition information provides consumers with information to help them to make the menu choices that are right for them.

  • About half of adult consumers report that using food package nutrition information led them to change their mind about buying a food product.
  • Research studies have found that using food labels is associated with eating a more healthful diet.
  • Studies have documented that without nutrition information available, it is difficult to estimate the caloric content of restaurant foods.
  • Studies have found that about two-thirds of consumers support having nutrition information on menus or menu boards at chain restaurants.
This information serves as guidance for chain restaurants on nutrition labeling as required by the King County Board of Health nutrition labeling regulation.

The King County nutrition labeling regulation states that:

Chain restaurants shall perform or obtain the required calorie and nutrient analysis using reasonable bases. (Reasonable bases are any reliable and verifiable calorie and nutrient analysis of a standard menu item, which may include the use of calorie and nutrient data bases, cookbooks, laboratory analyses and other reliable and verifiable methods of analysis.) Calorie and nutrient analysis using reasonable bases is required once per standard food item, provided that portion size is reasonably consistent and the food service establishment follows a standard recipe and trains to a consistent method of preparation.

Customers will rely upon the accuracy of the nutrition information provided by chain restaurants to assist them in managing their chronic diseases, such as diabetes, heart disease, and hypertension. Many other customers will use this nutrition information to assist them in making healthier choices to prevent chronic diseases and to manage their weight.

King County chain restaurants are encouraged to use knowledgeable staff or consultants to ensure accurate nutrition information of standard menu items. This guidance contains lists of some nutrition resources which are neither exclusive nor endorsed for those chain restaurants needing assistance in locating nutritional analysis software or companies specializing in conducting nutritional analysis.

In addition, technical assistance is available from Public Health — Seattle & King County to answer your questions about resources and nutrition analysis.

  • If you have questions or comments, please use our online form or call us at 206-263-9566.

Resources for nutritional analysis of standard menu items

  • Nutritional analysis software
    Nutritional analysis using software is an acceptable method for determining the nutrition labeling information for all foods sold in chain restaurants in King County. A listing of software for nutritional analysis which is neither exclusive nor endorsed is included in Appendix A. Accurate nutritional analysis with software is dependent on training and knowledge about food preparation methods and ingredients.

  • Nutritional analysis companies
    To ensure accurate nutrition information of standard menu items it is helpful to have someone knowledgeable in food science and trained in nutritional analysis conduct the nutritional analysis. Registered Dietitians, Registered Dietetic Technicians and Certified Nutritionists are examples of trained professionals available to provide this service. Appendix B contains a list that is neither exclusive nor endorsed of resources that provide nutritional analysis for the food industry. This list will continue to be updated to assist chain restaurants with current resources.

  • Laboratory nutritional analysis
    Nutritional analysis using laboratory analysis is an acceptable method for providing nutrition labeling information by King County chain restaurants. It is not required that fried foods have nutritional analysis conducted in a laboratory. Appendix C contains a list of companies neither exclusive nor endorsed that provide laboratory nutritional analysis of standard menu items.

Documentation of nutrition menu labeling information

  • The menu labeling regulation requires that chain restaurant owners or operators provide documentation of the accuracy of the nutrition labeling information for calories, total grams of saturated fat, carbohydrate and milligrams of sodium, if requested by Public Health staff.

  • Standard abbreviations: Food establishments shall use the following standard abbreviations when not using the words "calories," "saturated fat," "carbohydrate,": "Cal", "sat fat", and "carb".

  • Providing alcoholic beverage nutrition information: Nutrition information for each individual beverage on the menu will not be required. To be in compliance with the rule, food establishments must list in a single location on the menu or approved alternate method the following average nutrition values:
    • red/white wine - 5 ounces:
      122 calories; 4 grams carbohydrate; 7 milligrams of sodium

    • regular beer – 12 ounces:
      153 calories; 13 grams carbohydrate; 14 milligrams of sodium

    • light beer – 12 ounces:
      103 calories; 6 grams carbohydrate; 14 milligrams of sodium

    • distilled spirits (80 proof gin, rum, vodka, or whiskey) – 1.5 ounces:
      96 calories

  • Include this disclaimer statement: Signature drinks or liqueurs with added ingredients may increase calorie content.

  • Nutritional values may be reported as actual value or rounded.

Accuracy of nutrition menu labeling information

The nutrition labeling regulation states that to be in compliance, the nutrition information provided for each standard menu item must use a reasonable bases.

If there are questions about the accuracy of the nutrition menu labeling information, the chain restaurant will be required to provide the background information on nutritional analysis to the health officer. A nutrition professional on staff with Public Health — Seattle & King County will provide technical assistance to the chain restaurant to resolve the question regarding the accuracy of the nutritional analysis.

Appendix A: Nutritional analysis software

This resource list of nutrition software is neither exclusive nor endorsed. Please submit additional suggestions of nutritional analysis software used by food establishments so we can update this resource list.

Appendix B: Companies and qualified individuals

This resource list of nutrition software is neither exclusive nor endorsed. Please submit additional suggestions of nutritional analysis software used by food establishments so we can update this resource list.

There is an epidemic of overweight and obesity in King County, where 22% of adults or about 335,400 King County adults age 18 and above are overweight or obese. Obesity is directly related to an increase in chronic disease rates. For example, the number of adults age 18 and above with diabetes include 7% or about 110,200 people in King County.

Obesity prevention is a priority for the King County Board of Health and Public Health -Seattle & King County. It is part of King County's goal to provide reliable information and an environment in which all people can make informed decisions that impact their health. Public Health and the Board of Health sponsor the King County Overweight Initiative, and the Board of Health has adopted resolutions supporting community efforts to improve access to healthier foods and to provide more opportunities for physical activity.

Fast Food Challenge game

The Fast Food Challenge is a game designed to be a simple and interactive way to teach families about the calorie needs of children and the calorie content in fast food. The game can be used in a variety of settings, including WIC or other nutrition classes, at health fairs, and in school classrooms.

Posters and flyers

The posters and flyers focus on making healthier choices when eating out.