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NYC Trans Fats Ban in Effect, Chains Ignoring Calorie Rule

New Yorkers may have tasted the difference as new rules took effect barring trans fats — but they couldn't always see the effect of a requirement that restaurants list calorie counts on menus.

Sunday was the start date of New York City's first-in-the-nation ban on the fats — and the requirement that restaurants post calorie counts. But visits to many restaurants suggested they were in no rush to comply with the second rule.

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McDonald's Corp. and Burger King Holdings Inc. were among chains that ignored the rule requiring that certain fast food restaurants list the counts next to menu items in type that is at least as large as the price.

City officials were not planning to issue fines for violations of the new rules until Oct. 1. Before then, the New York Restaurant Association hopes a lawsuit in federal court will get the calorie rule thrown out.

Since New York passed the trans fat ban last year, Philadelphia, Montgomery County in Maryland and the Boston suburb of Brookline have followed with similar measures that take effect later this year or in 2008. Several other states and cities including California and Chicago are also considering trans fat prohibitions.

Most New York fast-food chains have reversed their initial opposition to the trans fat ban and implemented it ahead of Sunday's deadline, the city Health Department reported.

The first phase of the trans fat regulation applies to oils, shortening and margarines used for frying and spreading — not to baked goods or prepared foods, or oils used to deep-fry dough or cake batter. These are covered by the second phase of the regulation, which takes effect on July 1, 2008.

In the lawsuit over posting calorie content, the eateries argued that their First Amendment rights were being violated, and complained that the rule would turn each of their menu boards into a cluttered mess.

At one Burger King restaurant on Sunday, the nutritional information including calories was posted on a wall where few customers waiting to order their food appeared to notice it.

If they had, they could have learned that a triple Whopper with cheese has 1,230 calories — 1,070 without mayonnaise — and a king-size chocolate shake has 1,260. The recommended daily calorie intake for an adult woman is about 1,800.

Lowell Stephens, a manager at the Burger King, said the information had been posted in the restaurant for at least a year and a half.

"A lot of people know that it's there," he said. "They can read it any time."

But when the city does start cracking down, posting the calories on a chart on the wall won't be good enough. City health officials have said that the information must be on the menus themselves, not on hard-to-see material tucked somewhere else in the store.

"It needs to be at the point of purchase," Health Department spokesman Andrew Tucker said Sunday. "The point being that customers can actually see it when they're deciding what to order."

Some restaurant companies said they hoped the city would accept compromise measures.

Starbucks Inc. spokesman Brandon Borrman said the chain's 220 New York City coffee shops would offer nutritional information on spiral-bound flip books set up on the same counters where customers get their milk and sugar.

Borrman said putting calorie counts on the menu would be problematic.

"The menu boards become very visually complex when you do that," he said.

But some chains said they would comply with the calorie rule.

One of them was the Subway sandwich shop chain, which began putting up new menus including calorie counts at its 340 New York City locations in the past few days.

"We've always been upfront about our nutritional information," said Les Winograd, a spokesman with the chain, which is owned by the Milford, Conn.-based Doctor's Associates Inc. "We wanted to put our best foot forward."

Subway says it has healthier food than other fast food restaurants.

In the past, the restaurant has put some health information on its menu boards for sandwiches with fewer than 6 grams of fat. The new menus list calorie counts for the six-inch versions of each sandwich.