FDA Promises Additional Menu-Labeling Guidance

Bridget Goldschmidt
Managing Editor
Bridget Headshot
Food and Drug Administration, Scott Gottlieb, Menu-labeling Rule
FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb

Affirming his agency’s responsibility for “crafting predictable, uniform federal standards that will benefit the health of families across America by ensuring access to essential calorie and nutrition information on food and menu labels,” FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said that “additional, practical guidance on the menu-labeling requirements” would be available by the end of the year.

“Americans should not have to navigate variable information about the foods they eat when traveling from state to state — or city to city,” Gottlieb said. “Inconsistent state and local requirements may also drive up the cost of food, and sow confusion, by requiring restaurants and other covered establishments to post different information based on location. We take seriously our obligation to consumers; to make sure they have access to useful menu-labeling information in a simple and timely manner. We also share Congress’ goal in enacting these labeling provisions: to ensure that calorie and nutrition information is delivered in a clear, consistent and predictable way. Similarly, we recognize our obligation to provide clear guidance so that restaurants and other establishments that are subject to these provisions have clarity and certainty as to how they can efficiently meet the new menu-labeling requirements.”

He noted that FDA has already crafted detailed menu-labeling regulations shaped by input from consumers, industry representatives and other stakeholders. 

The forthcoming additional guidance, according to Gottlieb, “will address concerns that were raised about challenges establishments faced in understanding how to meet their obligations under the new regulations. We have been diligently working to address the comments we received, and to establish a sustainable framework for enabling establishments to effectively meet the new menu-labeling provisions. These new policy steps should allow covered establishments to implement the requirements by next year's compliance date.”

When contacted by Progressive Grocer for a response to Gottlieb’s comments, a spokeswoman for Arlington, Va.-based FMI said, “We appreciate additional insight into how the agency might further reduce the regulatory burden or increase flexibility for compliance with the chain restaurant menu-labeling rule.”

She went on to summarize the organization’s recent recommendations to FDA to make the rule easier for retailers to implement: “First, the rule should only apply to those items that are truly standardized across a chain with 20 or more locations. Second, platters, catering menus and multiserve foods should be exempt from the rule. Third, FDA should allow establishments to identify one primary writing for the calorie disclosure rather than require multiple disclosures for self-serve and foods on display. Finally, FDA should provide flexibility for providing additional nutrition that must be made available upon request to allow companies to use new technology in a way that meets their customer preferences. These four clarifications would reduce the regulatory burden and increase flexibility and compliance success.”

“We appreciate Commissioner Gottlieb and the FDA’s thoughtful approach to ensuring a final federal menu-labeling rule offers flexibility for the many different industries covered,” a spokesman for the Arlington-based National Grocers Association (NGA), which represents the independent grocery sector, similarly told PG. “As one of the costliest regulations for the grocery industry, it’s crucial that both chain restaurants and supermarkets be able to feasibly comply with the rule and provide consumers with caloric information in a way makes most sense for these very different formats.” NGA also provided its recent electronically submitted comments to the FDA regarding the rule (see attached file below).

A consistent objection to the menu-labeling rule among food retailers is the expense it would entail, particularly for small chains or single-store operators. As FDA continues to grapple with stakeholders’ feedback, the rule’s compliance date has been pushed back several times.

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