A new online calorie counter has been developed to help chefs work out the calorie count of dishes in order to include them on menus. 

The online calculator has been developed by the Food Safety Authority of Ireland and was launched today by Minister for Health James Reilly.

It will be made available to 22,000 food service businesses free of charge.

Mr Reilly said it is important for preventing obesity and is the first facility of its kind in the world. 

Speaking on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland, FSAI Chief Specialist in Public Health Nutrition Mary Flynn said the calculator, called MenuCal, will allow users to standardise their portions.

Ms Flynn said: "The user goes to menucal.ie, they put in their user name, email address, they register and get password – and then that's their account. 

“They can put in their own secret recipes, they can calculate the calories in those dishes and work it out per portion."

Ms Flynn added that the calculator was developed by the FSAI specifically to reflect Irish eating habits and food supply.

MenuCal is aimed at helping fast-food outlets, coffee shops and fine-dining restaurants display the nutritional content of meals on menus.

It includes an initial 2,000 popular food ingredients which users can add to and customise, based on their own recipes. 

It is also designed to create a secure place for chefs and cooks to keep personalised recipes and maintain files of their most popular dishes under password protection.

Meanwhile, Michelin-starred restaurant owner Oliver Dunne has said that legislation forcing restaurants to display calorie counts on their menus will not be practical for chefs or the restaurant industry.

Speaking on RTÉ's News at One, Mr Dunne, owner of two Dublin restaurants Bon Appetit in Malahide and Cleaver East in Temple Bar, said chefs who make dishes to order will not be able to standardise the amount of calories in each dish.

Mr Dunne said: "If we're in a kitchen and there's a team of chefs and you're making a portion of mashed potato for somebody, every chef that goes to make it doesn't weigh out 10 grams of butter for 200 grams of potatoes and stir it to order, the chefs are just putting it in. 

“It'll be so vague from one chef to another."