The Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) today unveiled ‘MenuCal’ – a new online calorie calculator that the FSAI is making available to Ireland’s 22,000 food service businesses free-of-charge to enable them to calculate the calorie values in the food they sell and serve to customers. The online tool, which was launched today by Dr James Reilly, T.D., Minister for Health, was developed to address the food industry’s concern about the lack of the expertise and resources to accurately calculate calories for display on menus and the associated costs involved.
In response, the FSAI brought together a team of nutritionists, computer scientists and food business trainers to create a bespoke, easy-to-use solution for the Irish market that would act as a resource to assist chefs and cooks identify calorie values, taking account of types and quantities of ingredients used, method of preparation and portion size. MenuCal is considered a first of its kind in Europe and the FSAI has already received interest from other jurisdictions wishing to adopt the system.
MenuCal has been tested by chefs and cooks throughout its design and development phases to ensure it is instinctive and straightforward to use, thereby vastly reducing the time required to determine the calorie values of their menu items. The tool incorporates over 450 useful tips and prompts depending on ingredient and recipe type. It includes an initial 2,000 popular food ingredients which users can add to and customise, based on their own recipes. It also provides a secure and safe place for chefs and cooks to keep personalised recipes and maintain files of their most popular dishes under password protection.
In 2012, the FSAI carried out a consultation with interested parties examining the feasibility of adopting a ‘Calories on Menus’ scheme intended to empower consumers to make more informed choices when purchasing foods from food service outlets such as restaurants, bars and cafés. At that time, the report recommended a voluntary scheme to allow a period of time for the development of a system, including technical tools, to support the food service sector. A recent survey by the FSAI of 1,000 food businesses highlighted that some 60% of respondents were in favour of providing calories on their menus, given the demand from consumers.
Dr Mary Flynn, Chief Specialist: Public Health Nutrition, FSAI, speaking at the launch today stated that MenuCal addresses the technical obstacles to putting calories on menus in food businesses in Ireland. Dr Flynn stated that those food businesses who want to be at the forefront of consumer service will be the ones who will benefit and gain competitive advantage by displaying calories on their menus.
“Our research shows that there is an overwhelming demand and desire by consumers (96%) for displaying calories on menus and that nine out of ten consumers want calorie information displayed beside the price of food and drink items on the menu. We knew that a concern for food businesses was to be able to provide this information accurately and to be able to do it themselves. In response, we have devised a calorie calculator that delivers this, while also offering chefs and cooks an extremely efficient way of securely storing all their recipes and ingredients in one location. In essence, it can become a customised recipe book for food businesses, as they continually update their recipes and update their popular dishes,” says Dr Flynn.
“Displaying calories on menus in food service businesses empowers consumers to make better choices and creates a demand for healthier food in smaller portions from food businesses. When food and drinks are prepared outside the home, the consumer does not know what ingredients are used and how they are prepared, so displaying calories on menus is vital if people are to make more informed choices about what they eat,” added Dr Flynn.