FDA Extends Compliance Date for Menu-Labeling Rule

Last month, the FDA extended the compliance date for its controversial menu-labeling rule from Dec. 1, 2015 to Dec. 1, 2016. The new requirements apply to restaurants and similar retail food establishments with more than 20 locations, as well as food facilities in movie theaters, amusement parks and other entertainment venues.

Zintro expert Evelyn Cadman is the owner and Principal Consultant at Bioscience Translation & Application, a company that provides technology evaluation, product development and regulatory affairs services to the pharmaceutical, food, dietary supplement and cosmetic industries. She has over twenty years of experience in research, product development and regulatory affairs. Her response to the recent FDA extension is below:

 

Evelyn CadmanWith the FDA’s extension of the deadline to list calories on the menus of restaurants and similar establishments with 20 or more locations, some companies are breathing a sigh of relief; some are halting their preparation and some are using the extra year to refine their plans and do more laboratory testing to complement their database-generated nutrition information.

It was a good move on FDA’s part to delay the compliance date for restaurant menu labeling; particularly since the agency had not yet published a comprehensive guidance document. While the agency has been quick to answer some queries on the topic, some queries remain unanswered after several months.

Compliance with the menu labeling regulations goes well beyond listing the calories on menus and having the balance of food nutrition information available upon request. The reality of compliance will take place in the kitchens and prep areas. Staff will have to comply with the prescribed “builds” of the food products in order to ensure that the food served matches the calories declared. The regulations stipulate that a “responsible person” must sign affidavits to certify the accuracy of the menu information. The regulations also require a statement signed and dated by a “responsible individual” employed at the restaurant certifying that the restaurant has taken reasonable steps to ensure that the preparation and amount of food provided conforms to the factors used to determine the nutritional information.

One of the biggest challenges to full compliance with the menu labeling regulations is listing the calorie information for alcoholic beverages. There is no regulation requiring the beer, wine or spirits industries to list such information; most do not have it and restaurants are finding it very difficult to figure out how to comply with this regulation. Some brewers/distillers do not regulatory test to determine the percentage of alcohol in their products, making it impossible to even make a calculated guess about the calories in alcoholic beverages.

It is unclear how much the requirement for menu nutrition labeling will affect consumer behavior; a few studies have found very little effect. Nevertheless, the looming regulation has encouraged many restaurant companies to rework their menus to ensure they have some lower-calorie offerings. In the long run, it may make it simpler for people to modify their diets in a healthful way and at the very least will help consumers become aware of how many calories various foods contain.

Evelyn Cadman

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