After More than a Decade, Menu Labeling Mandatory in USA

On May 7, federal law went into effect requiring retail stores that sell prepared food and restaurants in the United States with 20 or more locations to list calorie counts on their menus. Nutrition information will now be available at more than 200,000 restaurant locations nationwide, enabling consumers to make more informed choices about what to eat.

In addition to posting calorie totals for standard menu items, convenience stores must also spell out estimated calorie ranges for self-service foods and foods on display. Upon request, c-store operators are also obligated to provide more detailed nutritional information such as levels of sodium, carbohydrate and fat content.

Cicely SimpsonCicely Simpson, National Restaurant Association executive vice president of public affairs.So, following more than 10 years of planning, menu labeling is now the law of the land. Cicely Simpson, executive vice president of public affairs at the Washington, DC-based National Restaurant Association (NRA), explains what it means for the American foodservice industry and consumers dining away from home in the summation below.

Why it’s important: In the United States, the average consumer eats and drinks about a third of his or her calories away from home, so this law is a huge win for everyone. Not only will it help Americans make better choices when they dine out, it also represents a powerful example of government and industry working together to benefit constituents and customers.

How it came together: Recognizing in 2008 that federal guidance was long overdue, our foodservice industry began working with lawmakers and more than 70 public health and business groups to advance national menu-labeling guidelines to provide clarity for restaurant operators and consumers alike. After more than two years of work, the guidelines passed in 2010, but it didn’t end there. The restaurant industry needed to keep working with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), as it wrote the final rules to improve and protect them against attempts to weaken them.

menu labeling imageThe result: By working with the restaurant industry, the government addressed the areas of greatest concern and provided operators with the ability to implement the law in a way that positively affects customers and their dining experience. It also will help avoid costly litigation and unnecessary delays.

Return on investment: Restaurant owners and operators have invested a lot of time, effort and money in implementing this law. Those required to comply will need to include calorie counts on menus, menu boards and drive-thru displays. They also will have to offer other nutritional information to customers. The fact is that many of operators began taking the steps to be in full compliance with the law ahead of the May 7 deadline.

The end is a new beginning: Because of federal law, there will be no return to the piecemeal approach of years past, where menu-labeling laws passed on a state-by-state or city-by city basis and in some cases, by county. For some business owners, this meant designing different menus to accommodate different jurisdictions. That is no longer the case.

Choice. It’s what’s for dinner: For restaurateurs, the goal every day is to provide the best service to customers. Now, after a decade of hard work, diners from Portland, Oregon to Portland, Maine, will have a new tool to help them make the right choices for themselves. As any chef will tell you, a good meal is worth the wait.

Meanwhile, the Food and Drug Administration is responsible for enforcing menu-labeling rules. Initially, it focus will be on educating operators rather than imposing penalties, according to Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, who commented: “The FDA will allow covered entities a reasonable opportunity to make adjustments to bring themselves into compliance.”