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Understanding the Proposed Menu Labeling Rules

As specified in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010, “restaurants and similar retail food establishments that are part of a chain of 20 or more locations, doing business under the same name, and offering for sale substantially the same menu, must provide calorie and other nutrition information for standard menu items, including food on display and self-service food, and to provide, upon consumer request, additional written information for standard menu items”. The government believes that by providing this information to the public, consumers are better equipped to make smarter food choices.

In the latest step to implement the national menu labeling laws, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration released their proposed rules in a document entitled,  Food Labeling: Nutrition Labeling of Standard Menu Items in Restaurants and Similar Retail Food Establishments. In case you are wondering what specific information is required by this new proposal, we have broken it down for you.

According to the law, the following information must be provided for standard menu items that are sold in chains retail food establishments:

  • The number of calories in each standard menu item- calories must be displayed adjacent to the name of the item so that it can be clearly associated with that item.
  • A brief statement concerning suggested daily calorie intake to put into perspective the amount of calories consumed.  This should be displayed on all menus and menu boards.
  • Additional nutrition information for each standard menu item in written form and made available to the consumer upon request.
  • A “prominent, clear, and conspicuous” statement on the menu or menu board about the availability of the written information.
  • The number of calories per item or per serving adjacent to self-service food and food on display.

According to a Unilever Food Solutions World Menu Report, What’s in Your Food, “seventy percent of U.S. diners say they want more information about the sourcing and nutritional value of their meals when dining out”.  In order to provide this information in a clear and uniform manner, the FDA proposes that number of calories of each “standard menu item”, appear on all menus and menu boards of impacted establishments and that the term “calories” or “cal” is displayed next to those numbers. For variable menu items (like soft drinks that can some in different sizes and flavor combination) calories must be displayed in ranges, from the lowest number of possible calories to the highest.

To put into context the amount of calories one in consuming, the law requires a statement, prominently featured on all menus and menu boards concerning suggest daily calorie amounts.  The FDA propose the statement “ a 2,000 calorie daily diet is used as the basis for general nutrition advice; however, individual calorie needs may vary”. They suggests that this statement be displayed on all menus and menu boards of affected establishments.  For foods that are on display, like premade sandwiches or self-service foods like buffet lines, signs with the nutrition information should be place next to the food.

In addition, the written statement “additional nutrition information available upon request” must be posted on all menus and menu boards of covered establishments. The additional information that must be provided is…

  • The total number of calories derived from any source
  • The total number of calories derived from the total fat
  • Total Fat
  • Saturated Fat
  • Trans Fat
  • Cholesterol
  • Sodium
  • Total Carbohydrates
  • Sugars
  • Dietary Fiber
  • Protein

As outlined in our last post “Who is Affected by Menu Labeling Laws”, the FDA is open to comments from the public for 60 days, and will consider those comments when formulating their final rules.

While the national menu labeling laws will not impact every restaurant, any restaurant not already subject to the law may choose to opt-in to the guidelines.

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