Foodservice Equipment Reports

The Details (And Delays) Add Up In Menu Labeling Law

It looks like it’s going to be a while until chain operators have to follow the mandate to post calorie counts on their menus. The Food and Drug Administration says it’s finding the task of writing up menu-labeling regulations to be a very tricky one. The requirement to include calorie counts on menus and in vending machines is part of the 2010 healthcare law, but has proved difficult to actually implement. The head of the FDA recently told the Associated Press that writing a new menu-labeling law “has gotten extremely thorny” as the agency tries to figure out who would fall under the menu-labeling requirement umbrella.

“There are very, very strong opinions and powerful voices both on the consumer and public health side and on the industry side, and we have worked very hard to sort of figure out what really makes sense and also what is implementable,” FDA Commissioner Dr. Margaret Hamburg told the AP. Menu labeling has become one of the most challenging issues for the FDA, she added, because what might make sense on paper can be difficult to implement in practical terms.

The FDA is in the final stages of writing up the regulations and the final word could come as soon as spring, but that deadline could be pushed back as the food industry and regulators keep fighting over wording and definitions.

For the most part, restaurant operators seem to be onboard, but the big pizza chains weighed in early with protests that calorie counts don’t make sense for their multivariable menus; grocery stores and other non-restaurant businesses also have been lobbying to be exempt.

Under the proposed rule, chain restaurants with 20 or more locations, along with bakeries, grocery stores, c-stores and coffee chains would have to post the calorie count for every item they offer. Vending machines also would have to do the same if the info wasn’t clearly visible on the packaging.

Menus and menu boards also will tell diners that a 2,000-calorie diet is used as the basis for general nutrition advice, noting that individual calorie needs may vary.

The labeling requirements were added to the Affordable Care Act with the support of the restaurant industry, which has faced a patchwork of laws from cities and states. New York City was the first in the country to put a calorie posting law in place. Since then, other cities and states have followed.