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Updated menu-labeling rules to be issued next month

The Food and Drug Administration said it will issue detailed guidelines next month to clarify how chain restaurants must comply with the menu-labeling requirements mandated by the Affordable Care Act.

The assurance of clarification was extended in a draft of a Federal Register filing that also announces the agency’s decision to delay enforcement of menu labeling for a year, until Dec. 1, 2016.

“We have received numerous requests asking us to further interpret portions of the final rule or to respond to questions asking whether specific practices would be acceptable for purposes of complying with the rule,” read the draft, which will be officially published in the Register tomorrow.

In addition, the FDA wrote, industries to be affected by the labeling requirement cited a need for more time to develop processes and procedures for complying. Among the enactment challenges were securing technology and software to handle nutritional analysis, as well as changing over menu boards and training staff.

“Therefore, allowing adequate time for covered establishments to fully implement the final rule’s requirements, as described in the requests, helps accomplish the primary objective of the final rule and is in the public interest,” the FDA wrote.

The ACA provision requires units of chains with more than 20 restaurants to reveal the calorie counts of all regular menu items on the bill of fare and make available additional nutritional information upon request.  The provision had been supported by the industry, which preferred one requirement to a patchwork of local or state regulations.

Confusion about specifics of the law had prompted restaurants to request a delay in enforcement. 

"We have been in full support of a nationwide uniform menu labeling standard since the very start,” Dawn Sweeney, CEO of the National Restaurant Association, said in the wake of the FDA’s decision. "This standard makes good sense for the industry and our customers. We will continue to work with FDA and our membership to ensure a smooth transition for restaurants and consumers alike."

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