FDA recently issued its final guidance on restaurant menu labeling. The guidance, which dovetails with FDA’s December 1, 2014 Final Rule on restaurant menu labeling, is intended to help restaurants and similar retail food establishments understand nutrition labeling requirements under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act that may apply to them. The guidance is also part of FDA’s broader initiative to better inform consumers about nutritional information so that they can make more informed choices about the foods they eat outside the home. FDA’s menu labeling guidance can be found here.

The guidance covers restaurants and or similar retail food establishments that are part of a chain of 20 or more locations doing business under the same name and offering for sale essentially the same menu items. Examples of establishments covered by these requirements (i.e., “covered establishments”) may include, in part, bakeries, cafeterias, coffee shops, convenience stores, delicatessens, concession stands located within entertainment venues (e.g., amusement parks, bowling alleys, movie theaters), food take-out and delivery services (e.g., pizza takeout/delivery), grocery stores, superstores, quick service restaurants and table service restaurants. Establishments that are exempt from FDA’s menu labeling regulation include, in part, food establishments with fewer than 20 locations, food establishments that do not offer the same menu items at each location, mobile lunch wagons and food trucks, and transportation carriers such as trains and airplanes.  

The guidance, which is intended to serve as a companion to FDA’s guidance, “A Food Labeling Guide,” describes the type of nutritional labeling information required for foods sold in covered establishments and how such information should be presented to consumers. The guidance includes many of the restaurant-related regulatory definitions established in FDA’s final menu labeling rule, such as definitions for “covered establishment,” and for different food types and menu items, such as “combination meal,” “custom order,” “daily special,” “food on display,” as well as “exempt food sold in cover establishments.” The guidance is intended to assist covered establishments in determining which menu items are covered under FDA’s food labeling regulations, how nutritional values for covered foods should be calculated, and how to format and display such information on menus and menu boards.  

The guidance specifies that menus and menu boards in covered establishments should include the following nutritional information for covered items:

  • The number of calories in each listed standard menu item as usually prepared and offered for sale;
  • The statement: “2000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice, but calorie needs vary”; and
  • The statement: “Additional nutrition information available upon request.”

The guidance also specifies that the following additional nutritional information for standard menu items must be available in written form on premises upon request from customers: total calories (cal); calories from fat (fat cal); total fat (g); saturated fat (g); trans fat (g); cholesterol (mg); sodium (mg), total carbohydrate (g), dietary fiber (g); sugars (g); and protein (g). In addition, the guidance also discusses nutritional labeling requirements for “self-service”, “on-display”, “grab-and-go” foods, as well as for alcoholic beverages offered for sale in covered establishments.

FDA intends to begin enforcing the Final Rule on menu labeling starting in May 2017. Looking forward, FDA intends to conduct follow-up menu labeling webinars and workshops to address specific stakeholder needs and will provide notice of these upcoming activities in the near future. In the meantime, stakeholders can send questions on menu labeling requirements to CalorieLabeling@fda.hhs.gov.