For those who walk the line of being health conscious and making regular trips Buffalo Wild Wings, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is doing you a solid this spring: As of May 2017, calorie and other nutritional labeling will be required for standard menu items offered at restaurants that are considered to be part of a chain with 20 or more locations.
Though the new compliance laws are helpful for individuals who count calories, the May 5 deadline is a pressing issue for thousands of restaurants and other retail food establishments around the country, who have less than three months to update their menu systems with nutritional information for food items.
This is especially challenging for restaurants that rely on locally sourced ingredients or seasonally rotating menu items.
According to FDA press officer, Deborah Kotz, the compliance will affect those businesses “generally defined as “a retail establishment that offers for sale ‘restaurant type food,’ which is generally food that is eaten on the premises, while walking away, or soon after arriving at another location.”
Though an exact number of businesses that will be affected was not available, the menu nutrition requirements will affect any chain restaurant operating under the same name at 20 or more locations.
This means all food served at sit-down restaurants, purchased at drive-through windows, as takeout, at delis or groceries, at movie theaters, at coffee shops and even in vending machines will have to have labeling that can be viewed before purchase (in the case of vending machines, there are certain exceptions).
What does this mean for booze? “If the alcoholic beverage is a standard menu item that is listed on a menu or a menu board, the calories should be listed on the menu,” said Kotz, adding that in some instances, information may be presented in ranges, such as for beer and wine.
“The final rule provides flexibility in complying with this provision, including allowing calorie information for wine and beer offered in restaurant chain with more than 20 establishments to provide in ranges rather than for each individual offering,” she said.
Regardless of difficulty, restaurants have no excuse not to comply. According to Kotz, businesses have had more than two years to prepare — the menu labeling final rule was originally published Dec. 1, 2014, and was intended to take effect two years later, on Dec. 1, 2016 — the FDA later announced a formal extension, moving the compliance date to May 5, 2017.
Benefits of the rule, Kotz said, include making calorie information more visibly available, much like the information on packaged food items in grocery stores.
“Americans eat and drink about one-third of their calories away from home, so making accurate and easy-to-see calorie information available for these foods is an important part of an overall effort to help consumers make their own informed choices for themselves and their families,” said Kotz. “While consumers can find calories and other nutrition information on most packaged foods they buy in stores, this labeling is not generally available in restaurants and similar retail food establishments.”
The FDA could not comment on plans to extend the compliance requirements to smaller chains (those with fewer than 20 locations) or single location businesses.
For more information on menu labeling requirements and resources, visit the FDA website.