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FDA reveals menu-labeling enforcement start, final requirements

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Enforcement of menu labeling rules will begin in May 2017, the Food and Drug Administration announced in issuing an updated, more comprehensive guide to how restaurants will be expected to comply.

The nuts and bolts of compliance are spelled out in what is known in regulatory parlance as final guidance, or what the rules are likely to require unless there’s an uproar from the public. The requirements are not much different from those the FDA has issued in the past. However, more details are provided, and far more examples are cited, in question-and-answer format, to help chain restaurants understand precisely what they must do.

For instance, a whole section deals with how chain restaurants serving alcoholic beverages will be permitted to determine the calorie content of drinks and present that information to customers. The guidelines specifically say the establishments can use a variety of sources to develop a reasonable gauge of a cocktail’s calories, sparing them the expense of having to analyze every drink.

The final guidelines also specify what chain restaurants will have to post on their menus to meet the controversial “succinct statement” requirement, a mandate that establishments give consumers a rule of thumb on calorie consumption.

“The following succinct statement must be provided on menus and menu boards: ‘2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice, but calorie needs vary,’” the FDA said.

The final guidelines also address now-common aspects of the business that weren’t prevalent when the FDA first started drafting the rules. For instance, the agency said it would also regard kiosk ordering stations as menus where calorie information will need to be posted. Ditto for menus that are provided digitally either through an app or online.

Similarly, more guidance was provided on whether or not the disclosure requirements are applicable to a restaurant. Most of the regulations only apply to establishments that are part of a chain with at least 20 branches nationwide. The FDA says in the final guidelines that places with a similar—though not exact—name count toward meeting that threshold. For instance, if 18 restaurants are operating under the name ABC Restaurant and two function as ABC Express, all the outlets would be regarded as being part of a chain with at least 20 outlets.

Some regulations apply to smaller operations if they make health or nutritional claims about their menu items.

The final regulations are viewable here. To comply with formal rule-making procedures, the FDA said it will publish a Notice of Availability in the Federal Register in the next few days as a heads-up that the final guidelines have been issued. It will begin enforcing the final rules a year from that date.

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