Q&A: Menu Labeling Delay from the Experts

Q&A: Menu Labeling Delay from the Experts

With Claire Willis, Director of Nutrition at MenuTrinfo,LLC

Q&A: Menu Labeling Delay from the ExpertsAs the FDA delays menu labeling yet one more time Claire Willis, the Director of Nutrition for MenuTrinfo, sits for questions to add some clarity mixed in with a little speculation. Restauranteurs are just simply trying to understand what others in the food service industry are doing with the delay of a year.  What is the best advice MenuTrinfo is sharing with clients as they either move forward or wait to see what happens?  This last minute, 11th hour delay has everyone in a tail spin.

Can you give us some background on menu labeling, and how we ended up with May 7, 2018 as the new compliance deadline?

Menu labeling has been around since 2008. This is when the New York City Board of Health voted to mandate calorie labeling for restaurant chains with at least 15 locations nationwide. Since then, several more states, counties and cities have approved similar laws.

In March of 2010, President Obama signed the Affordable Care Act into law. Section 4205 included requirements for foodservice establishments with 20 or more locations to label calories on their menus. Four years later, the final regulations were published in the Federal Register, giving us the first compliance deadline of December 1, 2015.

This original deadline was pushed back one year, after the FDA fielded a number of complaints from the industry that there wasn’t sufficient time to comply. The next delay came five months later when Congress passed the 2016 spending bill, which included verbiage to push the enforcement deadline back to one year after the FDA published their final guidance document. This guidance was released May 5, 2016, giving us what we thought was the final enforcement deadline of May 5, 2017.

After several last-minute attempts by certain industry groups largely representing the convenience store, grocery store and pizzeria spaces, the FDA granted the industry one more year to become complaint. The new deadline for menu labeling is now May 7, 2018.

Will the regulations still be the same when May 7, 2018 rolls around?

The FDA has opened a 60-day comment period for consumers and those in the industry to give their thoughts on the existing regulations. It’s possible that the FDA may loosen the reigns after taking these comments into consideration. However, it’s also possible that nothing will change in that time.

What are some of the reactions you received from your clients once the delay was announced?

We felt some mixed emotions from our clients after the dust settled last week. Certainly, plenty of people were celebrating the delay, but a good number voiced their frustration with the timing. We had clients spend tens of thousands of dollars to roll out fully compliant menu boards, some even paying for expedited shipping, only to have the deadline changed 96 hours before it would go into effect. We also questioned why the FDA would cave to industry pressure so close to enforcement, but will use this extra year to continue advocating for transparent nutrition information in the industry.

Do you have any clients who will continue to move forward with calories on their menus, even with the delay in place?

Absolutely. With menu labeling, we aren’t just dealing with the federal regulations. All those local regulations I mentioned earlier? They aren’t preempted until the federal rule goes into effect. This means, for example, that a covered establishment with a location in Montgomery Country, Maryland can still be penalized for non-compliance over the next year. The same goes for locations in Philadelphia, New York City, King County, WA, etc.

Even if our clients don’t have locations in areas with their own labeling regulations, guests are starting to expect foodservice establishments to have nutrition information available. Several very large brands, such as McDonald’s and Starbucks, have been successfully menu labeling for years. Consumers see them doing it and expect their other favorite places to eat out to do it as well.

The majority of our clients will continue moving forward with the regulations, along with a number of other large brands. Krispy Kreme, Dunkin’ Donuts, Whole Foods and Albertson’s are just a small number of the concepts still wanting to provide full transparency to their consumers.

What advice are you giving your clients in regards to menu labeling?

First things first, we’re reminding them that menu labeling has not gone away completely and this is just another delay in enforcement. We’re also asking them to tell us which aspects of the regulations they found to be the most difficult to comply with, so we can communicate their thoughts and desires with the FDA during this comment period.

We are also making the very strong recommendation that they continue to provide nutrition information to their guests, even if they don’t move forward with labeled menu boards. Just having a PDF online where guests can look up the nutritional values of all menu offerings is a big win for consumers.

MenuTrinfo® is the nations leading nutritional help desk dedicated to helping foodservice operators protect the lives and health of their customers. MenuTrinfo’s complete suite of services include nutritional help desk services, clean menu reviews and assistance, menu analysis, AllerTrain™ accreditation and training in the areas of food allergies, gluten-free and special diets as well as specialty menu development, nutritional counseling and policy development. For more information go to www.menutrinfo.com, www.AllerTrain.com, email info@MenuTrinfo.com or call (970)259-4370.