Natural Foods Merchandiser

FDA releases menu labeling requirements for grocery chains

As part of the Health Care Reform Legislation, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration released two documents that outline the new federal nutrition labeling requirements for chain restaurants. The new law also calls for grocery and natural product stores with food outlets in 20 or more locations, “doing business under the same name,” to comply with the requirements. Chains with 19 or fewer units are not required to comply but may do so voluntarily by registering with the FDA. The draft is open for comment until Sept. 7, 2010, Docket No. FDA-2010_N-0298.

The new law will apply to grocery stores with buffets, self-serve and cafeteria-style restaurants, soup and salad bars and beverage fountains. The FDA has yet to decide how the rule will apply to pizza counters and juice/frozen yogurt bars.

John Gay, executive director and chief executive officer of the Natural Products Association, said this law is all too familiar, as he worked on it in his previous post at the National Restaurant Association. “There is a lot of gray here, and some questions will need to be answered by FDA. For example, what lines will be drawn as far as what constitutes a restaurant or similar retail establishment? If the only prepared food you offer is scoops of frozen yogurt, are you covered?” he said.

“It is also somewhat troubling that the basics of the law took effect upon announcement, but the intent of Congress was that a public comment period help shape the regulations, and that businesses have some time to comply,” Gay said. “These are the types of questions we will be addressing when NPA submits formal comments.”

Retailers must post calories in each standard menu item on menus/menu boards and make additional written nutrition information available to consumers upon request. Retailers will also have to publish calorie information on signage (per serving or per food item) for most self-service items not already labeled. Takeout menus and online menus also require calorie information. Menu items available for less than 60 days (such as daily specials), condiments and “other items placed on the table for general use” are exempt.


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