It’s 2015. You walk into your favorite fast food restaurant. You step up to the counter and look up at the menu board. You spot your usual order, but you notice an unusual number sitting right there beside it.
The calorie amount.
In 2014, the Food and Drug Administration issued a rule that certain restaurants and fast food establishments must display on their menu boards and on menus the number of calories contained in standard menu items. The FDA told these companies that their restaurants must comply with this rule by December 1, 2015, giving these restaurants a year to change their menus.
Fast forward to May 7, 2018 – this was the compliance date for the menu labeling final rule. The requirements set in this final rule state that any restaurants and similar retail food establishments that are part of a chain with 20 or more locations must disclose to their customers the number of calories for each menu item directly on the menu and menu boards. They must also have the ability to readily provide full, written nutritional information (total calories, total fat, saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, sodium, total carbohydrates, sugars, fiber, and protein) upon request (1). The restaurants/food establishments must also display some version of these two statements: “Full Nutritional Information is Available Upon Request” and “2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice, but calorie needs vary.”
I stated above that restaurants and similar retail food establishments must comply with this rule, so here is a list of who the FDA has decided fall under this category: bakeries, cafeterias, coffee shops, convenience stores, delis, food service facilities located within entertainment venues (amusement parks, bowling alleys, and movie theaters), food service vendors (like ice cream shops and mall cookie counters), food take-out and/or delivery establishments (like pizza take-out and delivery shops), grocery stores, retail confectionary stores, superstores, quick service restaurants, and table service restaurants (1). Although this list is fairly long, keep in mind that it still pertains to only these establishments that are part of a chain with 20 or more locations.
What about vending machines? Well, they’re not exempt from this rule. The final rule that was issued this month is requiring vending machine operators who own or operate 20 or more vending machines (or those who voluntarily register with FDA to be included in the rule) to provide calorie declarations for certain foods that are sold from their vending machines (2).
This menu labeling rule by the Food and Drug Administration is quite lengthy (a solid 105 pages), but I’ve done my best to look over it and try to pull the important parts out for this post. In summary, this rule is coming in to play now as a part of the Affordable Care Act of 2010. It seems like the end goal of the menu labeling rule is to allow the public to be more informed when it comes to choosing what they want to eat. We are living in a world now where a 1,300 calorie hamburger is easily accessible through a drive thru window for the price of around $3 or less in some places. Since this rule is in place, consumers will now be able to easily make healthful choices when dining out at chain restaurant locations if they choose to do so. For many restaurants, this could mean an eventual change in menu items. It will be interesting to see if and how America’s food choices change over the span of the next few years.
Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, & U.S. Food & Drug Administration. (2018, May 05). Labeling & Nutrition – Menu Labeling Requirements. Retrieved from https://www.fda.gov/Food/GuidanceRegulation/GuidanceDocumentsRegulatoryInformation/LabelingNutrition/ucm515020.htm
Food Labeling; Nutrition Labeling of Standard Menu Items in Restaurants and Similar Retail Food Establishments, 79 Fed. Reg. 71155 (December 01, 2014) (to be codified at 21 C.F.R. 11 & 101).