Columbia mall eatery offers science on the side

July 09, 1995|By Alisa Samuels | Alisa Samuels,Sun Staff Writer

Think of it as one of the first salvos in the fast-food nutrition wars.

The owner of Tokyo Express, a food court outlet in The Mall at Columbia, has started posting the nutritional value of his teriyaki sauce -- the heart of all his Japanese dishes.

Though big chains such as McDonald's and Chi-Chi's already post nutrition information, Tokyo Express is believed to be one of the first small, independent fast-food outlets in Maryland to do so.

Before long, many more restaurants may follow. The Food and Drug Administration's long-delayed food-labeling requirements -- now 1 1/2 years overdue -- are likely to require restaurants to post some kind of nutrition information.

The National Restaurant Association's 1993 menu analysis found a 12 percent increase in menus marketing nutritional items, but most restaurateurs are waiting before they post nutrition labels, said Wendy Webster, a spokeswoman for the Washington-based National Restaurant Association.

"Restaurant owners don't want to invest in menu work till they know what the government is going to require from them," she said.

Tokyo Express' labeling isn't thorough. Sau Bun Yeung, the owner of Tokyo Express, sent only samplings of his homemade teriyaki sauce -- not full dishes -- to a food laboratory. He had only his teriyaki sauce tested because it's a basic sauce in Japanese cooking, and analyzing just three bottles of the sauce cost $800.

But he added that he plans to have more of his food items analyzed.

A Rockville restaurant called the Silver Diner has spent $700 per recipe to have 15 healthful foods analyzed by a laboratory. The diner printed the results in its Healthy Heart Guide.

But testing just the sauce is better than doing nothing, said Jayne Hurley, senior nutritionist for the Washington-based nutrition watchdog group, Center for Science in the Public Interest. Still, "it's like the tip of the iceberg," she said. "It's like going to a fast-food restaurant and [getting nutrition data on] mustard."

Though the public interest group has not analyzed Japanese food, Ms. Hurley said Japanese dishes tend to be salty because of teriyaki sauce. During their study of teriyaki sauce sold in grocery stores, the group investigators discovered the amount of sodium ranged from 360 mg per tablespoon to 1,740 mg per tablespoon.

Lancaster Laboratories, an independent food laboratory, found Mr. Yeung's homemade teriyaki sauce contained 380 mg of sodium per tablespoon, 15 calories, zero fat and zero cholesterol.

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