FDA Releases Guidance on Federal Menu Labeling Requirements

| August 30, 2010

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration last week released documents that outline steps to help chain restaurants comply with new federal nutrition labeling requirements.

"One of the most important things we can do when it comes to the nation's health is to provide simple basic information to the American people so they can make choices that are best for them and their family," says FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg, M.D. "The menu labeling program will help Americans get the facts about food choices that are available to them in restaurants and vending machines so they know what is in the food and can make healthier selections."

Section 4205 of the Affordable Care Act, signed into law in March 2010, set new federal requirements for nutrition labeling for foods sold at certain chain restaurants and similar retail food establishments. Establishments with 20 or more locations may be affected.

The documents released by the FDA include:

  • A draft guidance document describing implementation of certain provisions of the federal law. For certain restaurants and similar retail food establishments, these statutory provisions include posting the number of calories for standard menu items on menus and menu boards, providing additional nutrition information in writing, and posting clearly on menus and menu boards that such information is available upon request. These establishments also must post calorie information for self-serve items and foods on display.
  • A final guidance document for industry regarding the effect of the new federal nutrition labeling requirements on state and local laws.

The draft guidance states that the FDA realizes that industry may need additional information and time to comply with the new provisions, and that the agency expects to refrain from enforcement action for a time period that will be provided in the guidance once it is finalized. The agency is interested in comments from the public on the appropriate length of this time period.

These actions are the latest in a series of steps toward the FDA's implementation of the menu labeling provisions in the new law. On July 7, 2010, the FDA opened a docket for the public to submit comments on how the agency could best apply these provisions. On July 21, 2010, the FDA issued a notice explaining how restaurants, similar retail food establishments, and vending machine operators that are not subject to the new federal nutrition labeling requirements can elect to be subject to the federal requirements.

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