Restaurant menu nutrition labeling still confusing

Sen. Moran calls for delay in final implementation of FDA's new calorie nutritional labeling requirements.

At the end of 2014, U.S. Food and Drug Administration finalized two rules requiring that calorie information be listed on menus and menu boards in chain restaurants and similar retail food establishments and vending machines by December of this year. However, some are indicating a delay in final implementation may be warranted as businesses try to determine what they need to do to comply.

The final menu labeling final rule applies to restaurants and similar retail food establishments if they are part of a chain of 20 or more locations, doing business under the same name, offering for sale substantially the same menu items and offering for sale restaurant-type foods.

FDA issued guidance March 11 for industry on the nutritional labeling for small entities in being able to comply with the final rule released Dec. 1, 2014.

During a Senate Appropriations Committee hearing on March 12, agricultural subcommittee chairman Jerry Moran (R., Kan.) questioned FDA commissioner Dr. Margaret Hamburg about the rule implementation and expressed some of the uncertainties businesses are experiencing in trying to determine what each needs to do to comply.

"The agency’s final rule on menu labeling is overly broad and inflexible and lacks a great deal of business practicality. I was disappointed to see the inclusion of grocery stores, convenience stores, and other entities that do not sell restaurant style food as their primary business," Moran said in his opening statement. 

Moran questioned specifically about whether pizza companies who deliver their pizzas for instance would be required to provide on the box the calories for that particular item. With the hundreds of combinations, it could become impractical, he said.

Hamburg noted that the restaurant-like establishments and foods on display such as in grocery stores has created some considerable questions in implementation. She said that FDA’s goal is not to disrupt current practices of the unique ways food is now sold, but instead create a smooth, efficient implementation of the rule.

She shared FDA will continue to issue additional guidance documents in an effort to clarify what’s in the rule and what is not.

Moran said that getting the industry from this point of uncertainty to improved understanding by December’s implementation deadline seems “far-stretched” and suggested to Hamburg a delay in final implementation may be something to consider.

Hamburg responded, “Clearly there is more work to done as there is still considerable confusion on what is in the rule.” She added FDA needs to do a better job of spelling out more explicitly what that is and narrowing in on some of the areas harder to address that are leading to more confusion from the issuance of the final rule to the actual implementation.

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