FDA airs new draft of menu-labeling rules

chipotle menu board

The Food and Drug Administration has issued a new draft of the menu-labeling regulations that are scheduled to take effect on chain restaurants starting Dec. 1, 2016.

The rules provide answers to some of what restaurant operators have cited as the more vexing questions about compliance with the labeling mandate, an industry-supported component of the Affordable Care Act.  For instance, some chains have expressed confusion about how to label the calorie contents of platter-style catering orders, where consumers can choose from a variety of sandwiches and sides.

The new proposed rules specify that the calorie counts for each selection would have to be provided. If there are four types of sandwiches offered, calorie counts need to be disclosed for each.

Among the other puzzlers for restaurants has been the question of how to handle customization of an order. How would they be expected to meet the labeling mandate if patrons could choose from a variety of, say, pizza toppings, on various sized pies?

The drafted rules indicates that the operator would be required to provide the calorie content of each base item—each size of pie, in this instance—and how much each topping would add--“Pepperoni: Add 50 calories,” etc.

The FDA noted that operators could use a grid-like chart on the menu so that customers could cross-reference the size of a serving against the number of calories various toppings would add.

Still, that’s not enough for the American Pizza Association, which blasted the complications of complying when there’s so much variety to members’ core products. “FDA’s five-month delay in providing this guidance confirms just how complex and burdensome their rules are, making compliance among small business owners both onerous and costly,” the trade group said in a media statement.

The new proposals in effect shift some of the calorie computations for a meal to the consumer. For instance, on a listing of sandwiches, the FDA says, operators can list the calories for the standard preparation, then the calories of various add-ons: “Colby cheese: Add 50 cal.   Cheddar: Add 35 cal.” (All calorie counts provided here are theoretical.)

The new 53-page guideline to the regulations can be seen in its entirety here.

Restaurateurs and other parties have been invited by the FDA to comment on the latest draft of menu-labeling requirements. The mandates will be applicable starting Dec. 1 to all the outlets of chains with more than 20 units nationwide.

Most groups that promote the interests of the industry, like the National Restaurant Association, have supported a federal menu-labeling mandate, noting that a single set of requirements, even if burdensome, is better than a patchwork of state or local regulations. But they have expressed concern about gaps in clarity about compliance.

The newly issued rules are intended by the FDA to address those concerns.

The NRA said it is still reviewing the newly proposed rules, but issued this statement:

“We welcome the FDA’s release of additional guidance that will help restaurants comply with the new federal menu labeling law, and will continue to work with our member companies as they prepare for the December 2016 deadline.  We also appreciate the collaborative relationship cultivated by the FDA during the development of this guidance, and look forward to providing additional comments on behalf of our member companies.”

Because of uncertainties about the requirements and confusion on the part of operators about how to comply, the FDA announced in July that it was delaying enactment for a year, to December 2016.


More from our partners