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Calorie Counts on Prepared Foods: How Accurate?


Joe H
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I am eating a prepared food from Safeway which they brand "Signature Cafe" and sell in dedicated cases in most of their stores. This one is "beef stew." Remarkably it is actually delicious. Serious. I'm not exaggerating to be dramatic-it is legitimately good. The container also says that it is 110 calories per portion with the container having a total of two portions. Thus 220 calories.

It is impossible. Too much juice, too fatty of beef-frankly far too much flavor. Weight Watchers and Stouffer's Lean Cuisine have similar sized frozen containers which have higher calorie counts and fail miserably in a taste comparison.

It also occurs to me that many people buy prepared and frozen foods eliminating or choosing some just because of their calorie counts. It would seem that there would be a benefit to listing a lower count than that which is actual.

"Safeway Signature Cafe" beef stew is not the only prepared or frozen food that I've tasted which seems more fattening and/or higher in calories than that which is listed.

An idea for a news story or feature: pick out a number of items and submit them for testing. Find out how accurate some of this really is. I'm sure others reading this will have their own suggestions for which should be included in this "study."

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I hear you. And I agree. Also to be included in the study is accuracy of the entire breakdown of carbs, proteins, fats, etc. on the label, and not just the calories. Many, like myself, use this information to dose medicine, which when one part of the equation is off, throws everything out of whack.

On another note, years ago my office mates discovered a muffin at the deli down the street that was fat free and was out-of-this-world delicious. Everyone loved it so much that we contacted the manufacturer to order it directly. We were so bummed when we discovered they had mislabeled the muffins, which were, in fact, loaded with fat and calories. Of course we had all been chowing down on them daily before we found out!

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On another note, years ago my office mates discovered a muffin at the deli down the street that was fat free and was out-of-this-world delicious. Everyone loved it so much that we contacted the manufacturer to order it directly. We were so bummed when we discovered they had mislabeled the muffins, which were, in fact, loaded with fat and calories. Of course we had all been chowing down on them daily before we found out!

This reminds me of the non-fat yogurt Seinfeld episode.

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I saw that episode and remember it well: impossible that a non fat yogurt could taste so good. It did and it wasn't!

Question: what is the penalty that a manufacturer/restaurant/food service supplier pays if their nutritional information is wrong? Are we talking a significant penalty if, say, Safeway Signature Cafe beef stew is actually 450 calories instead of 220? Or is it a slap on the hand?

I have NEVER BELIEVED Seasons' 52's calorie claim that everything is approximately 480 calories or less. I understand that there is going to be a variance based on preparation, portioning, etc. But I am focusing on outright deception, where someone profits from claiming that nutrional counts are different from what published. I accept that Signature Cafe's beef stew might actually be, say, 284 instead of 220. But what if it REALLY is 480? What if Seasons' 52's cedar planked salmon is actually 725 and not less than 480? I also understand that the amount of sour cream, salsa, guacamole and every single ingredient at Taco Bell can vary just as it can at Baja Fresh. But Baja Fresh has some breathtakingly HIGH numbers on some of their features (a charbroiled steak quesadilla is 1430 calories ( http://www.bajafresh...utritionals.php )(Am I reading that right: cheese nachos have 108 grams of fat and almost 2000 calories?) Chipotle doesn't list their numbers quite as explicitly thus they don't have quite the impact. But they add up to a similar number: http://www.chipotle....nformation.aspx A chicken burrito with everything is over 1,250 calories not counting the 570 calories if you add chips. And, they cover themselves because they list everything individually and by the ounce. Baja Fresh does not.

It would seem that depending on the penalty there is much to gain by mistating nutrional value in many instances.

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I believe that prepackaged foods are allowed a 10% variance in accuracy, according to labeling regulations. So that would give an outside range of 242 calories for the stew, if they are truly working within the guidelines.

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Tonight my wife microwaved two Signature Cafe beef stews and placed them both in the same narrow rimmed bowl. This is a dish that should total 110 calories X 4 portions for a total of 440 calories.

Oil/grease puddled in a three inch wide rim of the bowl. I should have taken a tablespoon and ladelled it out. My honest guess is that I would have had three + tablespoons full of grease. I am also guessing that each tablespoon would have been 100 calories.

440 calories seems quite conservative.

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