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FDA suspends menu-labeling rules

Chain restaurants now have the leeway to change their takeout and delivery menus without updating nutritional disclosures accordingly.
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Photograph: Shutterstock

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has suspended federal menu-labeling regulations, clearing the way for chain restaurants to tweak their takeout and delivery options without risk of sanctions.

The agency said the nutrition disclosure rules were temporarily lifted to provide chain restaurants with more flexibility in adjusting their bills of fare during the COVID-19 pandemic. The FDA noted that many places have shifted quickly to takeout and delivery to remain in business. The changeovers may have involved immediate changes in portion sizes and what products are offered.  The regulatory agency acknowledged that the establishments may not have the time or resources to analyze the adjustments and change their calorie counts and other nutritional information accordingly. “Establishments may have difficulty providing this information during a rapid transition to a takeout business practice,” the agency said in explaining the suspensions.

The move comes as many restaurants are adding family-sized meals and meal kits as takeout and delivery options. Many of those additions were made quickly to generate much-needed cash.  

At the same time, the FDA noted, some chain establishments may have encountered disruptions of their supply chain and been forced to find substitute products and ingredients.

The regulations will remain suspended for the length of the COVID-19 crisis, according to the agency.

Restaurants that share menus, recipes, trade dress, standard operating procedures and a name with at least 19 other units nationwide were required prior to the suspension to disclose the caloric content and other nutritional information about each standard menu. The federal requirements had been sought by the industry as a way of averting a hodgepodge of local disclosure mandates.

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