RESTAURANTS and fast-food chains in the UK could be made to employ a traffic-light labelling system to warn customers of salt, fat and sugar levels in their food.
The Food Standards Agency (FSA) is in talks with major restaurant chains and caterering firms about implementing the supermarket-style health guidelines, according to the Daily Telegraph.
Should the proposals bear fruit, restaurants may be forced to carry the warnings on their menus.
Meals with high levels of "unhealthy" ingredients would be marked with a red circle, while others would receive amber or green circles depending on how healthy they are.
Fast food giant McDonald`s and Compass, the UK`s biggest supplier of school dinners, are just two of the companies that have already held talks with the FSA, in which they discussed with the Agency how the guildlines could be effectively introduced.
An industry source told the Daily Telegraph that the talks were at a very early stage. He said: "The FSA has begun talks behind closed doors to determine how they might introduce nutritional information to food that is bought for consumption outside the home."
Last year a group of leading supermarkets, including Sainsbury`s, Waitrose, Asda and the Co≠operative Group, agreed to a voluntary "traffic-light" labelling scheme, but other chains – most significantly Tesco – have their own schemes in place.
However, it is much easier from a logistical perspective for supermarkets that sell prepackaged products to label their foods than it would be for small independent restaurants.
The source said the practical problems that would be bound to hinder the implemention of the new guidelines meant the talks would likely focus on caterers serving schools and workplaces and fast-food chains, such as KFC, McDonald`s, and Burger King.
The source said: "After the supermarkets, the next win for the FSA is the big restaurant chains and contract caterers. For your local fish-and-chips shop, labelling would likely be a step too far."
The FSA does not hold the necessary †legal powers to force and restaurant to adopt the new guidelines, as food labelling is regulated by European law.
However, as it proved with the supermarket sector, it can help the views of the public and the industry make a difference.
Unlike prepackaged food, restaurant meals tend to vary in ingredients and in size, leading industry insiders to warn that labelling would be hard to implement in the restaurant sector.
A spokesman for the FSA said it was in very early discussions about labelling for fats, salts and sugars in catering and restaurant food.
She said: "Initially we are focusing on the contract caterers and later down the line we could focus on the restaurant chains."