Answering pleas from industry, the Food and Drug Administration agreed to give food service establishments an additional year to achieve compliance with the new menu labeling rules that were set to take effect December 1.
The new rules—issued by the agency in accordance with Section 4205 of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act—require establishments with 20 or more locations that do business under the same name and offer substantially the same menu items to "clearly and conspicuously" declare the number of calories for each standard menu item, along with the suggested caloric intake in the context of an overall diet. Menus and menu boards must include the statement: "2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice, but calorie needs vary."
The rule applies to fast-food restaurants, grocery stores, and movie theaters. A second rule applies to the operators of vending machines.
Seasonal items, daily specials, and condiments are exempt. Upon request, covered establishments must provide additional nutrition information in writing, such as total calories, total fat, calories from fat, saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, sodium, total carbohydrates, fiber, sugars, and protein contained in a product.
But as the deadline for enforcement approached, covered businesses sought more time.
The FDA said it received four requests to delay the enforcement date from the National Association of Theater Owners, the Food Marketing Institute, the American Beverage Association, and Publix Grocery Stores. Each of the three trade groups and the grocery store chain said more time was necessary to design new menu boards, retrain staff, and develop software to label their food products.
"The final rule requirements are intended to ensure that consumers are provided accurate, clear, and consistent nutrition information for foods sold in covered establishments in a direct and accessible manner to enable consumers to make informed and healthful dietary choices," the FDA wrote in the Federal Register explanation of the compliance extension. "Therefore, allowing adequate time for covered establishments to fully implement the final rule's requirements, as described in the requests, helps accomplish the primary objective of the final rule and is in the public interest."
Granting a one-year extension, the agency said enforcement of the final rule will begin December 1, 2016.
To read more about the FDA's extension for the effective date of the menu labeling rules, click here.
Why it matters: In addition to the year-long reprieve that provides time to ensure compliance with the new menu labeling rules, covered entities in the food industry should keep an eye on pending legislation that could eliminate some businesses from coverage. The Common Sense Nutrition Disclosure Act, or H.R. 2017, would amend the rules to limit application to entities that earn 50 percent or more of their revenue from the covered food items. Single menu items that are available in "different flavors, varieties, or combinations," such as soft drinks, could use a range or average in lieu of a specific calorie count for each option. And the bill would eliminate the availability of civil suits for violations of the menu labeling rules.