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FDA Labeling Rules Finalized

fda menu labeling regulations

Here's what you need to know to prepare for menu labeling requirements.

Last December, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) finalized two rules that will require nutrition information for standard menu items in certain restaurants and retail food establishments as well as on certain vending machines.

According to the FDA, Americans consume about one-third of their calories away from home, and most people don’t realize how many calories they take in on those occasions. The new menu-labeling rules are part of the government’s effort to combat the obesity epidemic in the U.S. by providing consumers with understandable, consistent nutrition information that can help them make intelligent choices and possibly change their eating behaviors.

Rule #1 Restaurant and Retail Food Establishments

Effective date: December 1, 2015.

Who’s covered

Restaurants and retail food establishments that are part of a chain with 20 or more locations, and:

  • Do business under the same name
  • Offer basically the same menu items
  • Sell “restaurant-type” food. Establishments not fitting that description may also voluntarily register with the FDA to comply with the menu-labeling requirements

What’s covered

  • Amusement parks
  • Drive-thrus
  • Hot-food bars
  • Movie theaters
  • Restaurants
  • Salad bars
  • Takeout food (including delivery foods, such as pizza)
  • Foods ordered from a menu board at grocery stores
  • Foods prepared on-site at convenience stores, gas stations, or warehouse stores
  • Alcoholic beverages on menus
  • Bakery and coffee-shop treats
  • Treats for immediate consumption at ice-cream stores

What’s Exempt

Operations won’t need to disclose calorie information for:

  • Purchased foods intended for more than one person to consume and which require additional preparation (e.g., deli meats, cheeses, large-size deli salads, whole cakes, bottles of liquor, and foods purchased from bulk-bin cases)
  • Foods in transportation vehicles (e.g., food trucks, airplanes, and trains)

What’s required

  • Calorie information must be displayed on menus and menu boards
  • Additional written nutrition information (total calories, calories from fat, total fat, saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, sodium, total carbohydrates, sugars, fiber, and protein) must be provided to customers on request
  • To help consumers make sense of calories, nutrition information must contain this statement: “2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice, but calorie needs vary.” A similar statement for kids menus is required as well
  • Displayed calorie information must be presented clearly and cannot be in smaller type than the menu item’s name or price
  • Salad bars and buffets must display signs near the food that list the calorie content

Rule #2 Food Sold in Vending Machines

Effective date: December 1, 2016.

This applies to foods sold in vending machines operated by anyone owning or operating 20 or more machines. It covers the following types of food sold from vending machines:

  • Candy (gumballs, etc.)
  • Mixed nuts
  • Soft drinks
  • Packaged snacks
  • Hot and cold beverages dispensed in cups
  • Refrigerated prepared food

Again, the goal is to provide consumers with information in a clear, consistent, and visible manner to enable them to make informed choices. Many packages for foods sold in vending machines already contain nutrition information, but their labels aren’t always readable before purchase.

What’s required

Calorie information must be made visible at the point of purchase near the food item or its selection button in one of the following ways:

  • Sign
  • Placard
  • Sticker
  • Poster
  • Electronic/digital display 

If, however, nutrition information is readable on the food item itself, no further calorie information is required.

Nutrition Analysis—What Can I Use?

To determine the nutrition of the items you serve, the FDA allows you to use information provided:

  • On the food package’s Nutrition Facts Label
  • By the food’s manufacturer/supplier
  • In nutrient databases (often found within nutrition-software programs)
  • By cookbooks
  • Via laboratory analyses

In addition, restaurants covered under this rule must ensure the preparation method and portion size correspond to what these sources use to calculate the nutrition analysis.

The FDA hasn’t clarified how these rules will be monitored and enforced or what noncompliance penalties will be. That announcement is expected shortly before the rules’ enforcement dates.

How we can help

The Nutrition Resource Center (NRC) can provide nutrition analysis of menus and recipes for customers. Contact the NRC at nrc@gfs.com or (800) 968-4426 for this service.

Learn More About the Nutrition Resource Center 

Learn More About the Menu and Vending Machines Labeling Requirements