In 2010, Congress included a section in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA). It received little attention compared to the more visible plan known as “Obamacare,” and, until recently, was not enforced. This section was a requirement for restaurants to provide nutrition information to customers.
The law required restaurants to provide clear nutrition information, but did not get more precise about what that consists of. The law could not be enforced until the executive branch made specific regulations, but finally, just after Thanksgiving of 2014, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) published its menu labeling regulations in compliance with the ACA. Following are menu labeling FAQs for those in charge of food service establishments.
Which information do restaurants need to provide?
You need to put calorie counts on menus and menu boards next to the name of the food using a font size no smaller than that of the food name or price, whichever is bigger. If customers can order the item in a variety of ways, such as toppings on pizza, you can put the range of calorie counts for the various ways in which the item can be ordered.
Consumers will also be able to request information about the following nutrients, and you need to be able to provide the data to them in writing.
- Carbohydrates, including total carbohydrates, sugars, and dietary fiber
- Fat, including total, saturated, and trans fat
Can this information really promote public health?
Menu labeling requirements at restaurants have the potential to greatly affect the health of Americans. Americans get more than than a third of their daily calories from restaurants. At a time when the country is experiencing an obesity epidemic, restaurant meals tend to be higher in calories than the home-cooked meals they may be replacing. Having calorie counts at the point of decision can encourage Americans to select lower-calorie items.
Furthermore, poor diets are a factor in the leading causes of death in the U.S. Heart disease, cancer, and diabetes are the first, second, and seventh most common causes of death, respectively, and they are strongly linked to diet. These regulations require consumers to have access to information about relevant nutrients that can impact these diseases, including saturated fat, sugar, dietary fiber, and sodium.
Which restaurants must comply with these regulations?
All restaurants with at least 20 locations nationwide that have nearly identical menus and have the same name and ownership are required to achieve these requirements. Examples can include the following.
- Sit-down, take-out, and quick-service restaurants
- Coffee shops
- Grocery stores that sell ready-to-eat food
- Entertainment venues, such as movie theaters
In addition, you need to post calorie counts in vending machines near their corresponding items if you have more than 20 machines. Food trucks and restaurants and vending machines with fewer than 20 locations nationwide are not subject to these menu labeling requirements.
Do restaurant owners need to do their own food analysis?
No, you do not need to perform your own food analysis, although that is one way to obtain your information. Other ways to get your nutritional data include calculating it from cookbooks and nutrient databases, and looking at labels on prepackaged food.
When do the regulations go into effect?
For restaurants already in existence, you need to comply with the new menu labeling regulations within a year of the FDA’s publication of them, or by December 1, 2015. If you are opening a new restaurant, you need to be in compliance a year after you make the menu public.
http://www.cspinet.org/menulabeling/, http://www.fda.gov/Food/IngredientsPackagingLabeling/LabelingNutrition/ucm248732.htm, http://www.buffalonews.com/opinion/another-voice/another-voice-new-fda-calorie-rules-are-a-blow-to-small-businesses-20141209, http://www.fda.gov/Food/IngredientsPackagingLabeling/LabelingNutrition/ucm248731.htm