FDA Final Menu Guidance Largely Unchanged from 2015 Draft

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration late Friday published its final menu labeling guidance for the food industry, apparently ignoring concerns that grocery stores are being lumped in under regulations designed for restaurants.

“The guidance is largely a reprint of the draft guidance the agency released in September 2015 and did not incorporate the critical flexibility requested by the supermarket industry to make chain restaurant menu-labeling regulations more practical in a grocery store setting for key areas, including signage at the salad bar or hot foods bar,” said Leslie G. Sarasin, president and CEO of Arlington, Va.-based  Food Marketing Institute (FMI), in response to the surprise Friday afternoon release.

The rule requires menu labeling at chain restaurants and “similar retail food establishments,” determined by FDA to include grocery stores, notwithstanding the inherent distinction between the operations of grocery stores and those of chain restaurants.

Ruling lacks flexibility

“While we are pleased to have any type of guidance to assist with our challenging efforts to comply with a rule and a structure written for chain restaurants – as opposed to one that contemplates the operations of supermarkets with large and varied produce departments evolving to salad bars or seafood departments evolving to hot foods bars – the supermarket industry still seeks flexibility from FDA,” Sarasin added. “Specifically, food retailers wish to preserve their opportunity to sell locally produced foods that are sold at only one or two locations as well as their ability to use one sign/menu/menu board in a prepared foods area or next to a salad bar.” 

FDA noted that it is “committed to working flexibly and cooperatively with establishments covered by the menu-labeling final rule and to providing educational and technical assistance” to support consistent compliance nationwide. The agency plans to conduct webinars and hold menu labeling workshops that focus on specific stakeholder needs.

According to Sarasin, FDA has been unable to address grocery retailers’ concerns through its guidance process, “so we repeat the supermarket industry’s support for legislation that does address our concerns, the Common Sense Nutrition Disclosure Act (H.R. 2017/S. 2217), which passed the U.S. House of Representatives in February and is pending in the U.S. Senate.”

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