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What the FDA has on the Menu

Your menu will soon be getting a new look. This month the FDA issued its proposed guidelines for nutritional disclosure for chain restaurants across the United States, as part of 2010's healthcare reform law. Restaurants with 20 or more locations are covered under the regulations; movie theaters, bowling alleys and other businesses whose main business isn't selling food will not be affected.

The public and the foodservice industry are invited to comment on the proposed guidelines (which can be viewed here) through June 6, 2011. Finalized regulations are expected by the end of this year, with enforcement beginning as early as next summer.

How are your menus affected?

Most larger restaurants chains have listed calorie counts, fat grams and sodium levels on their websites and brochures for years, and some states and cities already have their own laws. The proposed guidelines require:

•  Calorie counts posted on menus, menu boards (including drive-throughs) and signage for self-serve stores for all standard menu items offered at least 60 days every calendar year (excluding most alcoholic beverages, daily specials, test items and custom orders.) Calories for combo meals will be displayed in ranges, when there are options such as side items and beverages. Self-service foods will have calories listed next to the food.
•  More nutritional information available in brochures or websites that includes percentage of calories from fat, cholesterol, sodium, carbohydrates, protein, fiber and sugar.

The National Restaurant Association endorsed the national standard, and companies like Panera Bread are leading the initiatives. Last year, that quick-service restaurant was among the first national chains to post calorie counts on its menu boards.

The impact on your business

Some restaurant operators fear nutritional labeling will turn off customers and reduce sales. But market research has recently shown that nearly half of consumers say they want healthier menu items, yet only about one-fourth of them actually consider nutrition when placing their orders. And in New York, where menu labeling has been required for the last two years, many operators say it hasn't had a lasting impact on their business.

However, the prospect of greater nutritional awareness among customers is prompting some changes among restaurants:

•  Reducing portion sizes to lower nutrition counts (and sometimes prices)
•  Posting fewer choices on the menu, such as side items, to reduce labeling needs
•  Making high-fat ingredients such as mayonnaise and cheese optional, to avoid having to account for their nutritional content
•  More self-serve options, such as offering salt packets with French fries or mayonnaise dispensers.

If you want the chance to tell us your views on industry issues, sign up now to be part of our monthly opinion polls.

Source: Food Labeling: Nutrition Labeling of Standard Menu Items in Restaurants and Similar Retail Food Establishments”, www.regulations.gov, Document ID: FDA-2011-F-0172-0001

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