Sticky Note

Restaurant Menu Labeling Law Starts This Year

Restaurant chains with twenty or more units operating under the same name will now be required to display calorie data on the menu.

On November 25 of last year, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) released final regulations which explains a 2010 law that requires many chain restaurants to add calorie data to menus. The regulations also require them to provide additional nutrition information to guests on request.

The federal standard will replace a patchwork of confusing state and local rules, National Restaurant Association (NRA) President and CEO Dawn Sweeney said.

The NRA sought and supported the law because the increasing complexity of state and local rules was becoming unmanageable for multi-unit restaurant companies.

Sweeney said the NRA strongly believes in the importance of providing nutrition information to consumers to empower them to make the best choices for their dietary needs.

“We joined forces with more than 70 public health and stakeholder groups to advocate for a federal nutrition standard so anyone dining out can have clear, easy-to-use nutrition information at the point of ordering – information that is presented in the same way, no matter what part of the country.

“From Portland, Oregon to Portland, Maine, diners in restaurants will have a new tool to help them make choices that are right for them.”

Restaurants have until December, 2015 to comply, the FDA said.  Here’s a top-line rundown of the regulations; further legal analysis is available at Restaurant.org/MenuLabeling :

    • Who’s affected: The law applies to restaurants and similar retail food establishments with at least 20 locations that operate under the same name and sell substantially the same menu items across their locations. Smaller restaurants can comply voluntarily. The NRA fought hard to ensure that the regulations apply to restaurant-type foods sold in convenience stores and grocery stores. The NRA will fight any effort by these sectors to get Congress to exempt them from the rules.
    • When: The rules go into effect Dec. 1, 2015. At the NRA’s urging, the FDA gave restaurants a year to comply. Originally, the FDA proposed a six-month timeframe, but the NRA noted the tremendous challenges and costs associated with creating new menus and menu boards. The one-year implementation period will help restaurants more effectively absorb the additional burden.
    • What’s required: Starting in December 2015, affected establishments will be required to:
      • Display calories clearly and prominently on menus, menu boards and drive-thru displays for standard menu items. Calorie information must be displayed on signs near menu items in the case of self-service, buffet and cafeteria lines.
      • Make other nutrition information available in writing on request. Additional information includes data on calories from fat, total fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, sodium, total carbohydrates, sugars, dietary fiber and protein.
      • Include a menu notice advising guests that further written nutrition data is available on request for standard menu items.
      • Include a succinct statement on the menu advising guests how calories fit into a recommended daily diet.
    • Which menu items are covered: Standard menu items are covered, including food at buffets, salad bars and cafeteria lines, as well as combination meals and self-service items. It applies to beverages, including some alcoholic drinks. Not included: Daily specials, custom menu orders, general-use condiments, test-market items and some other temporary and seasonal items.
    • Compliance: The law will require restaurants to have a “reasonable basis” to substantiate their nutrition data, such as nutrient databases, Nutrition Facts labels, laboratory analysis and other means.  The NRA made a strong case for this standard, rather than holding restaurants to a standard used for packaged foods produced in a food-processing facility.
    • Preemption: States and localities cannot set different or additional requirements for establishments covered under the federal law. Federal preemption would also apply in the case of smaller establishments that voluntarily opt in to the federal standard.

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