Long-expected rules requiring restaurant chains in the US to publish calorie counts on menus and menu boards were published by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) yesterday.

The law requires that calorie counts be posted on the menus or menu boards at restaurant chains with 20 or more units, which will have a year to comply with the new rules.

 The FDA has estimated that 1,640 chains nationwide would be subject to the requirements. Those chains have 278,600 locations. It has also estimated the cost of complying to be about $1,100 per unit, including $1,800 per limited-service restaurant and less than $1,000 per full-service location.

Many chains have already been preparing for them, including Starbucks, McDonald’s and Panera Bread, opting for a single, national standard instead of an amalgamation of state-led requirements.

FDA commissioner Margaret A. Hamburg said: “Americans eat and drink about one-third of their calories away from home, and people today expect clear information about the products they consume. Making calorie information available on chain restaurant menus and vending machines is an important step for public health that will help consumers make informed choices for themselves and their families.”

National Restaurant Association chief executive Dawn Sweeney said: “We believe that the Food and Drug Administration has positively addressed the areas of greatest concern with the proposed regulations and is providing the industry with the ability to implement the law in a way that will most benefit consumers.”

Under the rules, concepts with 20 or more restaurants that do business under the same name and serve most of the same menu items will be required to post calorie counts alongside the name of the menu item. Seasonal or temporary items, daily specials and condiments are exempt from the rules.

As part of the requirement, menus and menu boards must include this statement: “2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice, but calorie needs vary.”

The rules apply to both restaurants and similar retail food establishments, including takeout places like pizza concepts. The rules also include alcoholic beverages that are part of the standard menu.

In addition to the calorie requirements, the FDA will require restaurants to provide written nutritional information about calories, fat, calories from fat, saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, sodium, carbohydrates, fiber, sugars and proteins. That information must be available to customers on request.