FDA finalises menu and vending machine calorie labeling rules

Posted by AFN Staff Writers on 3rd December 2014
FDA finalises menu and vending machine calorie labeling rules
FDA finalises menu and vending machine calorie labeling rules

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has finalised two rules requiring that calorie information be listed on menus and menu boards in chain restaurants, similar retail food establishments and vending machines.

The rules, required by the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, will mean restaurants with 20 or more locations will need to provide consumers with more nutritional information about the foods they eat outside of the home. Australian Food News first reported in March 2010 that the US House of Representatives had passed legislation that would require restaurants to provide nutritional information to diners.

Restaurants and similar retail food establishments will have one year to comply with the menu labeling requirements.

“Americans eat and drink about one-third of their calories away from home and people today expect clear information about the products they consume,” said Margaret A. Hamburg, MD. “Making calorie information available on chain restaurant menus and vending machines is an important step for public health that will help consumers make informed choices for themselves and their families,” she said.

Restaurant menu boards

The menu labeling final rule applies to restaurants and similar retail food establishments if they are part of a chain of 20 or more locations, doing business under the same name and offering for sale substantially the same menu items.

Covered food establishments will be required to clearly and conspicuously display calorie information for standard items on menus and menu boards, next to the name or price of the item. Seasonal menu items offered for sale as temporary menu items, daily specials and condiments for general use typically available on a counter or table are exempt from the labeling requirements.

Some states, localities and various large restaurant chains are already doing their own forms of menu labeling. The 1990 Nutrition Labeling and Education Act, the law establishing nutrition labeling on most foods, did not cover nutrition labelling for restaurants and other ready-to-eat foods. In the years that followed, States and cities created their own labeling requirements for such foods.

The FDA said these Federal standards will help avoid situations in which a chain restaurant subject to the federal requirements has to meet different requirements in different States.

Development of the rules

The FDA said it considered more than 1,100 comments from stakeholders and consumers in developing these rules. In response to comments, the FDA narrowed the scope of foods covered by the rule to more clearly focus on restaurant-type food, made other adjustments such as ensuring the flexibility for multi-serving dishes like pizza to be labeled by the slice rather than as a whole pie, and provided establishments additional time to comply with the rule.

Some alcoholic beverages included

In addition, the menu labeling final rule now includes certain alcoholic beverages served in covered food establishments and listed on the menu, but still provides flexibility in how establishments meet this provision.

The FDA said the majority of comments from stakeholders and consumers supported including alcohol because of the impact on public health. The menu labeling rule also includes food facilities in entertainment venue chains such as movie theaters and amusement parks.

Total daily diet guidelines to be listed

To help consumers understand the significance of the calorie information in the context of a total daily diet, under the rule, menus and menu boards will include the statement:

“2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice, but calorie needs vary.”

The menu labeling final rule also requires covered establishments to provide, upon consumer request and as noted on menus and menu boards, written nutrition information about total calories, total fat, calories from fat, saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, sodium, total carbohydrates, fiber, sugars and protein.

Vending machine rule

The vending machine final rule requires operators who own or operate 20 or more vending machines to disclose calorie information for food sold from vending machines, subject to certain exceptions. Vending machine operators will have two years to comply with the requirements.

Nutritional information on Australian menus

In Australia, New South Wales became the first State to enforce the displaying of nutritional information as fast food outlets. Other States have also passed or are reviewing similar legislation.

Australian Food News reported in 2012 that a report from market research organisation Nielsen had found that Australians generally supported requirements for fast food restaurants to display nutritional information.