FDA Releases Final Menu Labeling Rules

On Tuesday afternoon, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued its final rules regarding menu labeling requirements. As passed in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA), the menu labeling regulations require caloric information to be included on the menus and menu boards of "covered food establishments," defined as being a part of 20 or more locations doing business under the same name and offering substantially the same menu items. This definition encompasses all franchises with 20 more locations, regardless of ownership.

Under the final regulations, covered food establishments will be required to clearly display calorie information for standard items on menus and menu boards next to the name or price of the item. The calories must be posted in a type face that is the size of either the name or the price, whichever is smaller, and must be in the same color "or at least as conspicuous" as the name used for the item.

Other information, including total calories, total fat, calories from fat, saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, sodium, total carbohydrates, fiber, sugars and protein, must be provided in written form upon consumer request and noted as such on menus and menu boards. According to the FDA, seasonal menu items (defined as items offered for sale for less than 60 days), daily specials and condiments are exempt from the labeling requirements.

In response to more than a thousand comments submitted during the "Note and Comment" period of the regulatory process, the final regulations also include the following:

  1. Federal preemption of current state and local menu labeling laws;
  2. Standards requiring a "reasonable basis" in which to determine nutritional information and prepare foods to adhere to that information;
  3. A more narrow focus on "restaurant-type" food—defined as food that is consumed on premise, while walking away from said premise, or soon after arriving at another location;
  4. Allowance for flexibility in labeling multiserving dishes—for example, pizza may be labeled by the slice rather than as a whole pie (as long as serving size is noted and how many servings are included); and
  5. Inclusion of alcoholic beverages which are listed as standard menu items on menus and menu boards.

Additionally, the final rules require all menus and menu boards to contain the statement: "2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice, but calorie needs vary."

Children's menus may note that they should have a smaller number of calories; 1,200 calories to 1,400 calories for children ages four to eight and 1,400 calories to 2,000 calories for those ages nine to 13.

Covered food establishments will have one year to comply with the menu labeling requirements—the effective date is Dec. 1, 2015. As the CFA receives more clarification from the FDA, we will keep you updated.