I’ll Stick to Drip – California’s New Menu Labeling Laws

One of the perks of working at Justia is that our office is just a few doors down from a Starbucks. Chances are on any given day you’ll find a steady stream of Justians popping over at some point to re-fuel on caffeine and load up on something to eat.  Imagine how surprised a group of us were last week then to see that the coffee chain now posts the calorie content of their drinks and food – uh oh – we’d been busted!  While I fretted over the 400+ calorie scones, Courtney and Ken noticed the high counts of some of their favorite drinks and all three of us wondered what was going on.  Is Starbucks suddenly concerned about our health or, more likely, is there some new law we didn’t know about that now makes it mandatory to list this nutritional information.

Meet California Health and Safety Code Sec. 114094 – California’s new menu labeling law! Turns out this law has been on the books since 2008, but given that establishments covered under its provisions had until December 31, 2010 to make calorie counts and other nutritional information available to customers, none of us were aware of it.

Among other things:

  1. The law applies to restaurants with 20 outlets or more within California that sell substantially the same food items so you won’t see it in effect at the local farmer’s market, but you’ll definitely know how many calories are in a Big Mac.
  2. The law doesn’t apply to public or private schools or vending machines.
  3. The law doesn’t cover grocery stores or convenience stores.

In reading more about the new law, it appears that there will probably be lax enforcement of its provisions  – which leads me to the even bigger surprise I discovered – federal regulations as part of the 2009 Healthcare Reform Law will supersede the California laws.  The federal laws regarding menu labeling will go into effect in March and will cover more types of restaurants and additional items such as alcoholic beverages.

Sigh, bub-bye blueberry scones!

Additional Menu Labeling Law Resources