Everything You Need to Know About the FDA’s Food Labeling Rule
On May 5, the FDA will begin enforcing its new menu labeling rules, which requires that restaurants and other away-from-home food retailers include calorie counts on menus and signage. Though the rules took effect on December 1, 2016 and compliance is already mandatory, the FDA was not permitted to enforce the law until May 5, 2017 so many restaurants have not yet prepared.
One hold up has been that these rules were tied to the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare and attempts to repeal the healthcare law have encouraged some restaurants to wait to implement these changes. Though these regulations were likely to remain in the law, some restaurants have been waiting until they find out what provisions will remain.
However, with the most recent healthcare repeal setbacks, this law is still on the books, and until further legislation passes, restaurants are already responsible for labeling their menus appropriately. Here is what you need to know about the rule.
1. What Does it Mean?
Restaurant and retail chains will be required to list calorie counts for individual foods and beverages as well as combo meals next to the name or price of the item. Where self-service foods are offered, such as at salad bars and buffets, calories must be shown on signs near foods.
Restaurants must also post that more complete nutrition information is available upon request. This information must cover:
- Total calories
- Calories from fat
- Total fat
- Saturated fat
- Trans fat
- Total carbohydrates
Nutritional facts must also be substantiated in labs to prove that they are accurate.
Menus and menuboards must also provide context by stating that it is recommended that adults consume 2,000 calories a day, but that individual calorie needs vary, says the FDA’s website. For restaurants that serve children, the following statement is acceptable: “1,200 to 1,400 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice for children ages 4 to 8 years and 1,400 to 2,000 calories a day for children ages 9 to 13 years, but calorie needs vary."
2. Who Must Follow the Rule?
Any restaurant or retailer serving food for away-from-home consumption with more than 20 locations “doing business under the same name … and offering for sale substantially the same menu items” will be required to label their menus and signage with calorie counts, says the FDA website. This includes franchises that operate with the same name as other franchises or parent companies.
The rule also applies to most categories of foodservice:
- Items served at full-service and quick-service restaurants, bakeries, and coffee shops, including foods from drive-thru windows
- Items available for delivery or take-out
- Self-serve options, including buffets and salad bars
- Alcoholic beverages that are listed on menus
- Foods served in entertainment venues, such as movie theaters and stadiums
- Certain grocery and convenience store items
In addition, when multiple varieties of foods or meals are available, the calories for each variety must be listed. If more than two choices are available, calories must be represented as a range, such as 150-300 calories. Combo meals with multiple choices will also have to label calorie counts for two items as above or as a range when there are three or more options.
3. Are There Exceptions to What Must be Posted?
Only items that are regularly available are covered under the rule, so daily specials and limited-time offers are not required to be listed if they are available for fewer than 90 days. Condiments are also not required to have calorie counts listed, nor are custom orders.
In addition, foods sold in some segments do not have to be labeled:
- Foods that are intended for more than one person and are sold at deli counters
- Bottles of liquor that are stored or displayed behind a bar
- Food served from food trucks, airplanes, or trains
- Items served at schools that are part of the USDA’s school feeding programs
Other restaurants may voluntarily register to follow the law by filling out a form available on the FDA website.
Though this law may change in the future with repeals to the Affordable Care Act, restaurants should begin preparing now to ensure they are fully compliant before the FDA begins enforcing the rule on May 5. For more information, review the full text of the rule and the FDA’s guidelines and recommendations here.