Menu-Labeling Rules Go Into Effect

FDA to focus on education rather than policing for the first year

WASHINGTON -- Rules requiring retailers and other foodervice and restaurant operators to post calorie counts for prepared foods and hot and cold dispensed beverages took effect May 7 after several delays. The Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA's) menu-labeling rules mandate that convenience stores and chain restaurants with 20 or more locations share their nutritional information on display boards, as well as on print and digital menus.

The purpose of the rules, rolled up into of the Affordable Care Act enacted by the Obama Administration, is to help consumers make more informed decisions about the food they eat and inspire foodservice operations to provide healthier options, FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb told The Washington Post. Besides listing calorie counts for standard menu items, c-stores must also label estimated calorie ranges for self-service foods and foods on display. Upon request, c-stores are also required to provide more comprehensive nutritional information for standard menu items, such as total fat, sodium and carbohydrate content.

Implementation of the rules was pushed back three separate times, including last May, just one week before they were set to take effect. Even with the FDA continuing to refine the final guidelines since 2013, NACS said it has reservations about the rigidity of the rules. "Convenience retailers will welcome any flexibility the FDA may be able to provide in order to comply with this onerous rule," Jon Taets, a spokesperson for the association, told CNN.

The National Restaurant Association, on the other hand, is welcoming a respite from a hodgepodge of local menu-labeling laws. “We believe the final set of rules and the guidance have turned out really favorable for us, and the FDA has been a good partner,” Cicely Simpson, executive vice president of public affairs for the National Restaurant Association, told Restaurant Business. “We believe we’re in the best spot we could hope to be.”

During the first year of enforcement of the rules, the FDA will focus on education rather than penalties, Gottlieb said in a statement. “The FDA will allow covered entities a reasonable opportunity to make adjustments to bring themselves into compliance,” he said.

NACS has promised to continue to support a bill moving through Congress that would ease requirements for retailers. Having passed the U.S. House of Representatives in February, the Common Sense Nutrition Disclosure Act would allow retailers to set a caloric range or average for menu items with several toppings and ingredient options. If most orders are placed online, the bill would also give retailers the option to post nutritional information online instead of in stores.

Compliance under the current legislation could cost retailers seven times more than the FDA’s $1 billion estimate for all industries over 10 years, according to a study commissioned by NACS.

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