The Healthy Menu Choices Act, 2015 (HMCA) and its regulations become effective on January 1, 2017. The new legislation, passed by the province of Ontario, requires food establishments, such as restaurants, coffee shops, convenience stores, grocery stores and movie theatres, with 20 or more locations to post calorie information for food and drink items.
The HMCA and its associated regulation require regulated food service locations to display the number of calories for every standard food item on that restaurant’s menu, including menu boards, and display calories on labels or tags for standard food items that are put on display, and on signs for self-serve food and drink items.
Food service providers are also required to post an educational statement for customers about average daily caloric needs. The number of calories must be posted beside, above, or below the name or price of each standard food item on the menu. A standard food item is a restaurant-type food or drink that is sold in a standard or regular size; is served, processed and/or prepared in a regulated location; is meant to be eaten/drank right away, with no further preparation by the customer. Ontario is the first province in Canada to implement this requirement.
Calories are a measure of the amount of energy in food. The average restaurant meal may contain more than half of the daily calorie requirement. Eating more calories than is required could result in weight gain. Knowing how many calories are in the food we eat can therefore help consumers get the right amount of energy for their daily needs. It is estimated that the average adult needs about 2000 – 2400 calories per day but the exact number depends on age, gender, body size and activity level. Children (ages 4 to 12) need an average of 1,500 calories a day. This information is considered a contextual statement. Posting calories and a contextual statement on menus creates a more supportive food environment to make it easier for Ontario families to choose healthier foods when dining out.
City of Toronto food service inspectors, appointed by Ontario’s Minister of Health and Long-Term Care, are required to ensure compliance with the requirements of the HMCA through a strategy that includes a balance of education, inspection and progressive enforcement. Enforcement activities may include responding to complaints, issuing warnings and laying charges, as required. The fines for not complying with the legislation range from $500 per day for individuals to as much $10,000 per day for corporations.
Food service premises that are not part of a large chain can voluntarily display the calories on their menus. For consistency and to avoid confusion for consumers, premises electing to voluntarily implement menu labelling are encouraged to adhere to the requirements of the legislation.
The HMCA‘s goal is to raise public awareness about the calorie content of foods eaten outside the home and encourage industry to reformulate high-calorie menu items. It helps provide customers with nutrition information to make more informed health choices about what they eat when dining out or purchasing ready- to-eat meals to take home.
(Sylvanus Thompson is the Associate Director/Food Safety Lead with Toronto Public Health.)