Washington Restaurant Market Watch: What you need to know about federal menu labeling rules

Washington Restaurant Market Watch: What you need to know about federal menu labeling rules https://wahospitality.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/menu-labeling-pic-454x198.jpg

By Paul Schlienz

In December 2014, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) released its menu-labeling regulations. While these rules were initially set to go into effect on Dec. 1, 2015, the FDA delayed implementation by one year to Dec. 1, 2016, due to a great deal of bipartisan pressure from Congress.

Since the delay, in July, the FDA has been providing guidance to restaurants on how it will enforce these rules when they eventually take effect. The agency’s emphasis is clearly on informing the foodservice industry on how the rules will ultimately work, and getting restaurants up to speed on what will be required of them.

“The first year is focused on education,” Lynn Szybist, leader of the FDA’s Labeling Regulations Implementation Team, said at a recent webinar.

In order to ensure compliance, restaurant operators need to consult the actual regulations as published by the FDA.

In general, the rule will cover restaurants and similar retail food establishments if they operate 20 or more locations under the same name with substantially the same menu items at its locations. Smaller restaurants may comply with the rules if they choose, but this on a strictly voluntary basis.

If you are affected by the rules, starting in December 2016, you must clearly and prominently display calories on menus, menu boards and drive-thru displays for standard menu items. On buffet, cafeteria and self-service lines, calorie information must be displayed on signs near the menu items. You may use the term “calories” or “Cal” as a column heading or adjacent to the number of calories for each standard menu item.

All non-alcoholic beverages and any alcoholic drinks that are on a drink menu are covered under the new rules. The regulations do not affect mixed drinks requested by customers at a bar.

Additionally, daily specials, custom menu orders, general-use condiments, test-market items and certain other temporary and seasonal items are not included in the regulations.

The law will also require restaurants to have a “reasonable basis” to substantiate their nutrition data. Such “reasonable” sources of information may include nutrient databases, Nutrition Facts labels, laboratory analysis and other means.

Upon request, other nutrition information, including data on calories from fat, total fat, saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, dietary fiber, sodium, sugars, protein and total carbohydrates, must be made available in writing. You must also include a menu notice advising customers that further written nutrition data is available on request for your standard menu items. This information may be posted on a counter card, sign, poster, handout, booklet, loose leaf binder, electronic device or in a menu. Additionally, you must include a succinct statement on the menu advising guests how calories fit into a recommended daily diet. (Example: “2000 calories is used for general nutrition advice, but calorie needs vary.”)

While the expected cost throughout the restaurant industry is somewhere around $315 million to implement in the first year, the final rules are a win for restaurants. The FDA took restaurants’ concerns into account while drafting the rules. As a result, the rules federally preempt any state or local menu-labeling regulations, replacing a confusing array of rules.

Other wins for restaurants are the inclusion of convenience and grocery stores among “similar retail food establishments” in the rules, the one-year compliance timeline for compliance and flexibility on implementation, including allowing pizzas to be labeled by the slice.

For more information, visit the National Restaurant Association’s Menu Labeling page. Additionally, the FDA provides a comprehensive overview on the new rules. If you are unsure of how to determine calories and other nutritional values, email your questions to CalorieLabeling@fda.hhs.gov.