Eye on Hospitality: FDA Releases Menu Labeling Guidance

Eye on Hospitality: FDA Releases Menu Labeling Guidance

By Paul Schlienz

Well before the May 7, 2018, effective date for the long-awaited federal menu labeling regulations, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has rolled out some non-binding “guidance” to help with implementation.

“As someone who enjoys eating out with my family and picking up the occasional take-out meal, I – like many Americans – want to know what’s in the food I eat,” FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said. “As FDA commissioner, I also know that more people are eating meals away from home, and our diets are increasingly comprised of foods we get from restaurants or take-out meals. FDA is committed to leveraging nutrition to enhance health and reduce disease, and the agency soon will be announcing a broader policy effort in this area.”

The FDA’s menu labeling requirements are only mandatory for restaurants and retail outlets with 20 or more locations although smaller operations can “opt-in.” The majority of restaurants and retailers affected by the new regulations were ready to implement the new menu labeling in May, but FDA delayed the implementation timeline to solicit more comments, especially from pizza and movie chains.

Cicely Simpson, the National Restaurant Association’s executive vice president of public affairs is pleased that the FDA took comments from the restaurant industry into account when crafting the regulations and will “continue to work with the FDA to successfully implement federal menu labeling by May 2018.”

The FDA’s guidance outlines how companies can comply with the regulations requiring companies serving “restaurant type food” to post calorie counts on menus and menu boards. The rule covers everything from movie theater popcorn to self-serve beverages purchased at gas stations.

Among the concerns about the new rules was pizza delivery companies’ questions about how the rules would apply to pizza’s varied toppings and potential combinations. According to Gottlieb, companies could provide a base amount of calories for pizza, then posting calories next to the toppings.

Grocers were also concerned with how the rules would affect self-service buffets or beverage station. Those companies, according to Gottlieb, could post calories next to each individual item or have a single sign posting “visible while consumers are making their selection.”

Billboards, coupons and other marketing materials do not meet the FDA’s definition of a menu, and therefore do not have to include calorie counts.

“At a time when more than a third of U.S. adults are obese and more people are trying to make healthier lifestyle decisions, we know making informed choices about our diets has the potential to save and improve lives,” Gottlieb said.

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