DOVER Del. Delaware became the latest state to weigh in on the menu-labeling issue when the Senate passed a measure requiring that restaurants post nutrition data on menus. The bill now moves to the House.
Passed by a 15-5 vote, the measure, SB 81, would require chain restaurants with 20 or more locations nationwide to list the number of calories on menus and menu boards. The information must be provided adjacent to each item in a size and typeface similar to the price and other information.
Additional nutrition information also would have to be available "in writing, to customers upon request," the measure states.
According to the bill, chain restaurants would not have to provide nutrition data for specials or LTOs that appear on the menu for less than 30 days each year; condiments and other items placed on the table for general use; and food items sold in a manufacturer's original sealed packages that already contain nutrition information required by federal law.
Restaurateurs who violate any provision of the measure would face a fine of $225 for a first violation and up to $500 for each violation after that.
Many restaurateurs and state association executives have said they oppose mandates at the state and local level, and favor bipartisan federal legislation that instead would establish a uniform standard, block frivolous lawsuits and pre-empt existing state and local laws.
Carrie Leishman, president of the Delaware Restaurant Association, also said she supports uniform menu labeling legislation.
"A local bill can be very detrimental to business," she said. "An individual franchise owner might have to spend money make certain changes, and then spend more money a year later [if Congress passes a federal measure.]"
Both the current federal House and Senate health care bills have menu-labeling provisions attached that, if enacted, would address those concerns. The model for those provisions -- the Labeling Education and Nutrition, or LEAN, Act -- was introduced by Delaware's Sen. Thomas Carper in 2008.
Delaware is the latest state to move seriously to enact menu labeling. Outgoing New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine signed statewide menu-labeling bill earlier this week. The New Jersey bill also impacts restaurant chains with 20 or more outlets and requires them to post calories on menus and menu boards. The Garden State law shields any noncomplying restaurants from legal action from a member of the public, and also provides for pre-emption at the federal level.
Other states and jurisdictions that already have passed menu labeling laws include California; Maine; Massachusetts; Oregon; New York City; Philadelphia; Nashville, Tenn.; Maryland's Montgomery County; and New York's Albany, Westchester, Suffolk and Ulster counties.