Consumer and health groups that pushed for stricter menu-labeling rules at chain restaurants are now asking the Food and Drug Administration to clarify that those rules also apply to third-party delivery platforms.
But the agency said companies like DoorDash and Grubhub are not required to comply, though it encourages them to do so.
The regulations, which became law in 2018, say that chains with more than 20 locations must include calorie counts for each item on menus and menu boards. Now, as food delivery becomes more prevalent, the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) and other groups say the absence of nutritional information on third-party delivery menus is limiting the law's purpose.
"It’s time for the FDA to make clear that the rules apply to DoorDash, Seamless, Grubhub, Uber Eats, and the rest," said Eva Greenthal, senior science policy associate with CSPI, in a statement.
The law is intended to allow consumers to make informed eating choices as well as encourage restaurants to offer healthier food. It extends to "electronic menus" and "menus on the internet," which the groups argue includes those on third-party delivery platforms.
But third-party delivery platforms don't meet the definition of a covered establishment under the FDA's current guidelines, "and therefore would not be subject to menu labeling requirements," said Elisabeth Davis, a spokesperson for the agency, in an email. However, "we encourage third-party websites and delivery apps to provide important nutrition information for the menu items offered on their platform," she said.
Greenthal said there seems to be a "misalignment of interpretation" between the groups and the FDA, stemming from the law's statement that menu items lacking calorie counts are to be considered misbranded.
"We agree (that delivery platforms are not covered establishments), but they are participating in the sale of food from covered establishments and the posting of menus from those restaurants," she said.
"The third-party platforms can also be held liable for selling food that’s misbranded in that it lacks the calorie counts."
DoorDash, Grubhub and Uber Eats do allow restaurants to include nutritional information on their sites, they said—but it's up to the restaurants to enter that data.
"We’ve built Uber Eats to be as merchant-friendly as possible, which means that restaurants have control over their menu listings on the app, including photos, item descriptions, pricing and adding any additional information—including calorie counts," an Uber Eats spokesperson said in an email.
McDonald's, for instance, displays calorie counts for each item on its Uber Eats page.
DoorDash said its terms of service require restaurants to abide by federal rules, including those around menu labeing. But not all restaurants do. CSPI pointed out that Chipotle Mexican Grill doesn't provide nutritional information on DoorDash, though it does on its own website.
The groups involved are CSPI along with the American Heart Association, American Public Health Association, the Center for Digital Democracy, Consumer Federation of America, and Consumer Reports. They sent a joint letter to Dr. Susan T. Mayne, director of the FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, urging her to issue "interpretive guidance" on the issue for the restaurant industry.