New Nutritional Menu Requirements from the FDA

A restaurant’s menu is a peek into the heart and soul of the business. Each appetizer, entrée, and dessert offered shows what the foundation of the restaurant revolves around. Whether it be fresh market ingredients, wings and sliders, or ethnic offerings, a menu is the equivalent of giving someone a road map before a long trip. On December 1st, 2015, the FDA will begin to enforce a new menu labeling guideline, which includes listing caloric values next to each menu item, as well as on menu boards throughout the restaurant. These FDA previsions will be enforced for restaurants and similar food retail establishes with 20 or more locations doing business under the same name and offering the same menu. To be short, individual restaurants do not have to worry about these major changes.
How will this effect restaurants, and in turn, the customer? Here’re a few ways that the menu labeling guidelines will change the way restaurants operate.

What Needs to be Labeled?

With more than 250,000 restaurants across the country slated to make these menu changes, it’s vital to know exactly what foods need to meet the requirements before you begin work on gathering nutritional data and updating menus. Items that fall under the new guidelines are “standard menu items”, or food that is routinely offered on a menu or menu board. However, there are many items on a menu that are not subject to the labeling requirements. Items such as daily specials, temporary menu items(offered less than 60 days per year), condiments for general use, custom orders, and foods offered during a market testing period. The FDA regulations also includes variable menu items, such as pizzas with different topics, combination meals, displayed food, like pre-made sandwiches or slices of pizza, and self-service food, such as a buffet or salad bar.

New Look Menus

Currently, many restaurants offer a “lighter fares” section of their menu, where dishes with a light calorie load are offered to health –conscious eaters. Rarely exceeding ½ a page, the section often has lots of small numbers printed under each item, describing the amount of calories, carbohydrates, salt, etc. To follow the FDA’s guidelines, all food items on the menu will now be required to list calorie information, and it no longer can be stuffed between menu items like in the past. Requirements now call for the information to be displayed in a prominent, clear, and conspicuous manner. The type size can be no smaller than the smallest type on the menu, and must be in a conspicuous color.

Not Just Calories

FDA guidelines do not just center around calorie listings, but also call for restaurants to provide the following nutritional information for each standard menu item, in writing:
• Total calories
• Calories from fat
• Total fat
• Saturated fat
• Trans fat
• Cholesterol
• Sodium
• Total carbohydrates
• Dietary fiber
• Sugars
• Protein
While listing calories on the menu is a small insight into the nutritional value of a menu item, providing this additional information allows the guest to see a more complete picture of exactly what they will be consuming if they order a certain menu item. Nutritional experts say that this process is not an easy one, and that restaurants should begin the process of collecting nutritional data for each of their menu items as soon as possible, in order to meet the December 1st deadline.

Don’t Throw Out Your Menus Just Yet

The FDA allows restaurants to explore a variety of options on how to present this nutritional information to customers, aside from redoing all of their physical menus. Items like a counter card, sign, poster, postcard, or binder will all be acceptable, but must be available at any time when a customer requests the information. The new requirements also allow electronic versions of the nutritional information to be utilized by restaurants. Tablets, computer kiosks, or handheld devices can be a great way to not only provide customers with the required information, but also to position the restaurant at the forefront of technological uses in a dining environment.
While these new requirements may send many restaurant ownership circles into a frenzy trying to meet the requirements by the deadline, many restaurants have already begun practicing this “self-reporting” method, and will be able to simply increase the amount of information they share. How has your restaurant begun to compile nutritional data? Do you have any unique ways that the data will be presented to customers? Share it in the comments below!