New requirements tucked into the recently passed federal health care reform bill will force more than 200,000 fast food and chain restaurants to include calorie counts on menus, menu boards and even drive through windows.
New Berlin-based S-F Analytical Laboratories, which specializes in the chemical testing of food, has already received multiple phone calls from local restaurants preparing to comply with the new regulations.
“Many fast food chains already provide that type of information to their customers,” said S-F Analytical food chemist Fran Saunders. “We are expecting an increase from local non-chain restaurants that want to comply with the new regulations to remain transparent, and to possibly show that their food is more nutritious than other chains.”
Under the new law, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration will create national standards for menu labeling which would apply to restaurants with more than 20 locations. But Saunders expects menu labeling to become a restaurant industry standard, and business for S-F Labs will increase when local restaurants chose to voluntarily comply with the regulation.
Employees at S-F Labs can test the caloric content of food from local restaurants, and can also break down the calorie count into moisture, protein, fat and mineral content.
Depending on what type of information the restaurant wants, there are multiple tests that can be done to find nutritional information, Saunders said.
“We can test any sample as a whole and record what the total caloric intake would be using the bomb calorimeter or we can do individual tests to see what the chemical makeup of the food is,” Saunders said.
According to Saunders, the bomb calorimeter ignites a sample and measures the unit of heat generated from the combustion.
“Calories are equal to the amount of energy needed to digest the food,” Saunders said. “The bomb calorimeter measures that energy in the form of heat.”
During the test, the food sample is ignited and allowed to burn thoroughly, Saunders said.
“As the fuel is burning it heats up the steel container and the surrounding water,” she said.
The temperature change in the water, along with a minor adjustment to account for the heat capacity of the steel container, (the bomb), is used to measure the total calorie intake of the sample, she said.
S-F Analytical Labs does business on a nationwide basis, but a large portion of its work is done right here in Wisconsin, Saunders said.
“We do environmental and food testing and specialize in five testing types in addition to food chemistry,” she said.
The labs also do environmental testing for chemicals, asbestos and municipality wastewater. They can serve as a consulting service for local businesses and individuals if they are interested in the chemical makeup of a sample.
Each test has a specific cost associated with it, and deals and discounts can be worked out on a per customer basis if multiple samplings are going to be tested.
“We have the capabilities to perform sample tests and produce nutrition information summaries for our customers,” Saunders said. “We can break down any type of physical sample and we can also establish a nutrition summary for them if they provide us with a recipe.”
To view a supplement video interview with Fran Saunders, food chemist at S.F. Analytical Labs click here.