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WASHINGTON — Blue MauMau contacted the FDA right on the one-year deadline for a draft of a new national menu-labeling requirement for restaurant chains, part of the sweeping health care law, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010.
The Food and Drug Administration was supposed to issue a draft of the new calorie labeling requirements on March 23 but instead issued it a week later on April 1. In writing to this journal about the postponement, the FDA's deputy director for the Office of Public Affairs Michael Herndon wrote, "We expect only a short delay and it is a reflection of the complexity of this issue but most important an indication that the FDA is willing to work with all interested parties to ensure the best policy is presented."
Franchisors think a single federal law is better than having myriad state and municipal laws. But they also need to time to figure out which would work best for them and how to implement it. Back in December, the International Franchise Association provided comments to the FDA to encourage a full public vetting of the new menu-labeling regulations before it becomes fixed. On April 1, Stephen Caldeira, CEO of the IFA, said of the draft that was to be released that day: "We applaud the FDA for moving forward in the most efficient, cost-effective manner possible and urge FDA to continue to give franchise restaurant owners adequate time to comply with the new law."
A number of multiunit franchisees also think having a single standard in menu labels is a good thing. Regarding the bill, Misty Chally, director of government relations for The Coalition of Franchisee Associations, declared, "While the CFA doesn't solely represent food service franchisees, we support a uniform standard so that franchisees will not have to bear the burden of paying for different menus and menu boards based in the city, county or state where their business is located."
The full 45 page draft of proposed regulations can be found on the U.S. Government Printing Office site. There are less than 60 days to comment on the planned rules.
Who? Individual restaurant owners who are in chains that have 20 or more units are required to follow the label law. "Calories must be posted on menus and menu boards in the same color — or in a color at least as conspicuous as — the color of the name of the associated standard menu item," reports Paul Frumkin, highlighting in Nation's Restaurant News what's in the draft.
What? "The new requirements do not apply to custom orders, daily specials, food that is part of a market test, temporary menu items, alcoholic beverages, and condiments on the table," Frumkin writes. However, take-out and delivery menus serve as ordering menus. These have to list calories. The Wall Street Journal summarizes what must be disclosed: "Under the guidelines, which are subject to change,eateries would have to inform customers that other nutrition information is available on request, including calories from fat, total fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, trans fat, sodium, carbohydrates, sugars, dietary fiber and protein."
When? One of the criticisms of the law is how quickly it will take place. The FDA proposes the new rule roll out six months after the official rules are finalized and published. That could be as early as the end of this year. But here too, the FDA declares its flexibility: "The agency is interested in comments from the public on the appropriate length of this time period."
How much? A restaurant owner can anticipate the cost of implementing the new label law as "$1,100 per establishment," according to NRN.