Nutrition-on-menus restaurant rule begins

Requirements for food nutrition labeling at restaurants in King County began taking effect yesterday.

The regulations, first adopted in July 2007 by the county’s Health Board and then revised earlier this year, apply to about 1,700 restaurants countywide and will be phased in over the next five months. They’re to be in full effect by Jan. 1, 2009.

The requirements apply to eateries that are parts of chains with more than 15 locations. Separate rules govern full-service and fast-food restaurants:

• At full-service restaurants, nutrition information must be printed in one of five formats: On menus, in an appendix to the menu or in a supplemental menu, in a menu insert or at an electronic kiosk at each table.

• At fast-food establishments, the information initially must be posted inside only. Drive-throughs are exempt until Aug. 1, 2009.

Information to be displayed includes calorie, fat, sodium and carbohydrate content.

The Washington Restaurant Association (WRA) has been working with its King County members on options for complying with the rules, according to a spokeswoman for the industry organization.

The Health Board, stating it wanted to help consumers make healthy food choices to combat obesity-related health problems, negotiated the current regulations with the WRA after the Legislature disputed the policymaking authority of local health boards on menu labeling. Among changes that were negotiated was the minimum size of restaurant chains (from 10 initially to the current 15) required to comply.