On December 1, 2014, the Food and Drug Administration (“FDA”) issued a final rule on food labeling, as required under the Affordable Care Act, which provides for nutrition labeling of "standard" menu items for chain restaurants with 20 or more locations and "similar retail food establishments." If you are a restaurant owner the menu labeling rule will most certainly impact on your bottom line. The rule is expected to cost the food industry some $315 million to implement and about $44 million per year after that, according to the FDA’s original cost-benefit analysis. In addition to restaurants, the rule applies to food facilities in entertainment venues, such as movie theaters and amusement parks, take-out food establishments, bakeries, convenience stores, grocery stores and supermarkets.

Several months have now past since the rule was finalized and business owners continue to show frustration with the hundreds of pages of legalese they are forced to navigate in order to prepare their companies for its implementation. Thus, in response to this frustration, the FDA has released a Small Entity Compliance Guide, which is intended to restate the rule's requirements in plain language.

The guide provides detailed guidance on many topics, including: types of establishments covered; how to label menus with nutritional information; how to determine calorie content of foods; and the consequences of misbranding. Most importantly, the guide provides visual examples on how to calculate calories when to toppings change on particular menu items, such as ice cream sundaes and pizza. The guide also discusses the food labeling requirements in great detail, including: labeling requirements for standard menu items; formatting requirements for declaring calories; nutritional information; and requirements for food that is self-service or on display.

The rule is scheduled to go into effect on December 1, 2015, therefore it’s important for businesses to start planning for the implementation. Although the guide was meant to make it easier for small businesses to comply, the rule's requirements for determining caloric content and labeling menus are highly detailed and complicated.