Though the chain boasts about the food quality information on its new global packaging, the text is short on calorie and nutrition information. Source: McDonald’s Corp.

Nutritional labeling for restaurant meals is shaping up as a watershed change with implications for packaged goods from fast food chains. California will require all chains with 20 or more outlets to post calorie counts on menu boards by 2011, with brochures containing nutrition information for standard products required in the meantime.

New York City, Seattle and a handful of other municipalities have passed similar laws in recent years, though California’s SB 1420 labeling bill likely will have the greatest impact. “Ten years from now, it will probably seem strange that once upon a time, chain restaurants didn’t list calories,” said Margo Wootan, nutrition policy director at the Center for Science in the Public Interest. A day after the bill was signed into law, Louisville, KY-based Yum! Brands Inc. announced it would list calories at its 35,000 Taco Bell, Long John Silver, KFC and Pizza Hut outlets.

“We believe we have a continued responsibility to offer ‘better for you’ options, educate consumers about the foods they eat and promote exercise,” the chain’s public affairs officer said in a prepared statement. Yum did not comment on why the calorie counts are not being disclosed on the packages as well.

A global packaging initiative for McDonald’s restaurants in 118 countries got underway November 1 in the US, UK and Ireland to provide a consistent look while accommodating text in 21 languages. “The new packaging will illustrate the high-quality ingredients and food prepared at McDonald’s,” the Oak Brook, IL-based chain states. Asked what nutritional information is included in the text, a company spokesman cited the packaging for Chicken McNuggets, which states the product is “an excellent source of happiness.”