FSAI launches online calorie calculator
Tool designed to help food businesses tally calorie content of menu items
Pictured at the launch of the Food Safety Authority of Ireland free online MenuCal calorie calculator were Minister for HealthJames Reilly with Dr Mary Flynn, Chief Specialist: Public Health Nutrition, FSAI and Noel Marrey a chef at the Bracken Court Hotel. Photograph:Jason Clarke
The Food Safety Authority has developed a new online calorie calculator to enable food businesses to calculate the calorie content of the meals they serve.
The tool, which was launched this morning by Minister for Health James Reilly, was developed in response to complaints from the food sector about the cost involved in providing calorie information for customers.
The authority says MenuCal is the first of its kind in Europe and has already attracted from other countries seeking to adopt the system. The provision of calorie information on menus, first mooted by the Minister almost two years ago, is intended to help the fight against obesity by encouraging consumers to opt for lower calories options.
“Displaying calories on menus in food service business empowers consumers to make better choices and creates a demand for healthier food in small portions from food businesses,” said Dr Mary Flynn of the FSAI. Consumers overwhelmingly supported the measure and a majority of food businesses were also in favour, she said.
MenuCal was a “game-changer” in the fight against rising obesity, she said.
However, the Restaurant Association of Ireland claimed forcing its members to display calorie counts on their menus would cost the industry €110 million, or €5,000 each per year. It arrived at this figure by estimating that each chef would have to spend 20 hours per month calculating calorie counts for a 40-item menu.
“How does the Department of Health suggest that we pay for this without having to pass on that cost to employees, reduce their hours or cut staff? It’s not easy for a business to cough up €5,000 in the morning. The banks aren’t lending us any money,” said RAI chief executive Adrian Cummins.
He claimed the data provided by the MenuCal calculator may be in breach of the Consumer Protection Act, adding that the experience of introducing calorie counts in the US had been “disastrous” because most customers paid no attention to them.
Dr Reilly told reporters he had no plans to make calorie information mandatory in restaurants, saying he preferred the carrot of a voluntary scheme to the stick of legislation. However, he refused to rule out the possibility of legislation in the future.
“This is not about the nanny state. It’s about informing consumers so they can make informed decisions.”