Restaurants skip required nutrition info; officials choose not to care

California requires restaurants to put nutritional information on menus, but in an insane example of government bureaucracy at its most inept, the law isn't being enforced.

Only five years ago, California enacted a pioneering law that required restaurants to put nutritional information on menus. For the first time, consumers were empowered to make informed decisions about what they ate.

So it seems crazy that it's even a question: Does the law still exist?

If you ask state Sen. Alex Padilla (D-Pacoima), the author of the menu-labeling law, the answer is yes.

"The law in California is still the law," he told me. "My firm belief is that nutritional information is still required on menus."

But that's not how the California Restaurant Assn. sees it. It believes Padilla's law has been repealed.

So does the California Conference of Directors of Environmental Health, whose members are responsible for enforcing menu labeling at the local level.

"Right now we're in limbo," said Elizabeth Morgan, environmental health director for Sierra County, northeast of Sacramento, and chair of the state organization's Food Safety Policy Committee.

Or, in the words of Angelo Bellomo, environmental health director at the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health: "There is a law that requires it, but both the federal government and the state government have decided not to enforce it."

Confused?

You have a right to be — just as you should be angry that no one has been ensuring that California consumers have the nutritional info they need to make healthful eating choices.

It's an insane and completely unnecessary example of government bureaucracy at its most inept.

And it's only come to light, at least for me, because Phil Loebach, 62, contacted me the other day to relate a recent experience he had at the Applebee's restaurant in Signal Hill.

The Long Beach resident said that every time he's gone to an Applebee's, there have been calorie counts on the menu. But at the Signal Hill branch, he was unable to find out how many calories were in the tomato soup and chicken sandwich he wanted to order.

"I'm trying to eat healthy," Loebach said. "At other Applebee's, calorie counts always help me make decisions. But this one didn't have them."

When he got home, he emailed Applebee's to ask where the calorie count was. Didn't state law require nutritional information on the menus of any restaurant chain with more than 20 branches?

A response was offered by Brad Miller of Apple American Group, which owns and operates about 450 Applebee's restaurants across the country, including the Signal Hill outlet.

"I wish I could provide you with more," he wrote, "but California law has been suspended pending the issuance of FDA regulations."

California's menu-labeling law, which took effect in 2009, requires restaurant chains with 20 or more outlets to provide information on calories, saturated fat, carbohydrates and sodium.

The law was so well-regarded that President Obama decided to make it part of Obamacare. Section 4205 of the Affordable Care Act stipulates that calorie counts must be included on menus of restaurant chains with 20 or more branches and that other nutritional info must be provided on request.

Now here's where things start getting squirrelly.

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