FDA Menu Regulations & Nutritional Labeling, what you need to know for 2018

Your Quick Guide to FDA Menu Labeling Regulations

Let’s start by making sure we have a definition of the main subject regarding who and what is covered by the FDA Menu Labeling Regulations. The FDA has a final advisory and a suggested implementation date for owners of multi-unit food service outlets that describes labeling of food items and their calorie counts. At the current time, this is only an advisory to alert businesses of forthcoming regulations. Think of this as fair-warning to display nutrition inform.

Sample FDA Menu Nutritional Information. Image source – FDA Menu Labeling Supplementation

Who – The advisory states restaurants or similar establishments that meet the following criteria:

  • Have more than 20 locations. A local is a fixed position or site.
  • Be doing business under the same name regardless of ownership, such as franchise. The “name” refers to the name presented to the public and may include regional variations of each other such as region, location, or size.
  • Sell substantially the same menu items Sell or provide restaurant type foods defined as food that is usually eaten on premise, or take away.
  • In addition to food, there is an inclusion for beer. If listed on menu or a menuboard and meets the standard definition for menu item. This includes craft beers if part of the normal menu offering. The exception is seasonal or short run beers of less than 60 days.

What – In 2014, the FDA published rules with nutrition labeling of standard menu items in restaurants and similar retail food establishments. Before these requirements, consumers could not find standard nutrition labeling as is found with most packaged foods. Providing calorie and nutrition information in food establishments allows the dining public to make informed dietary decisions.

A covered establishment may choose to use a single sign option at each location that lists only the calorie and nutritional information for each standard menu item if it can be seen by all patrons when making food choices. Combo food items such as soup and sandwich special do not require total calorie count for combo provided the individual item calorie info is provided.

When – The new compliance date is May 7, 2018. The goal is to provide standard FDA menu labeling compliance in a cooperative manner. There are no new penalties, however there are existing enforcement tools already exist for menu labeling which is the same for other misbranding actions under the FD&C Act. (21 U.S.C. 9 Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, 1938)

What should I do if I am a covered establishment? – As an effected business with more than 20 locations, you need to start planning for sharing food and beverage nutritional information, specifically Calories with your customers. Your signage needs to be specific to avoid confusion between nutritional information and marketing.

There are no rules preventing mixed information to promote a product if the Calorie information is readily available. Certain businesses such as pizza shops have flexibility so long as the standard offerings provide appropriate nutritional information. Latitude is granted with special combination orders of topping and ingredients.

FDA Pizza Sample Pizza Menu w/ Nutritional Info. Image source – FDA Menu Labeling Supplement

Start planning your menu signage to comply with the FDA requirements. Printed menus for trays or wall hanging signs are acceptable. However, with day parting of menus such as breakfast, lunch, specials, and dinner, the quantity of information may be overwhelming for your customers. Digital Menu boards are optimal for this use. They provide compliance with regulations when Calorie information is associated with the product and can be easily changed, and scheduled to simplify customer ordering.

Who should I call? – Seek out digital signage vendors that have dedicated food menu solutions. These companies should have a portfolio of solutions that use Common Off The Shelf solutions that are reasonably priced. These include displays with built in System On Chip (SOC) media players, web enabled software, and ready-to-deploy menu templates. There is no reason to buy dedicated PCs or operating systems that may have issues with security updates, patches, and require dedicated technical staff. Manufacturers of System On Chip displays have commoditized the hardware to all-in-one solutions that are extremely easy for the most technically challenge restaurant manager.

For larger companies, feature-rich enhancements and advanced integrations to kitchen order and POS systems can now be accomplished with System On Chip displays. Automation and integrations are available off-the-shelf for head office managed product imagery and messaging, while the store operator can choose local market pricing and schedules. Integrations for what used to be exotic use cases such as beer keg-level display, with calorie count per measure, while featuring a brand logo. These integrations do not require significant middle-ware hardware, and can all be accomplished with System On Chip displays.

Manufacturers of System On Chip commercial business displays have built their displays to higher operating standards that withstand kitchen heat, dust, grease, and poor ventilation. The display manufacturers offer full warranty support when properly installed, and on 24/7. Most offer 3 year no charge replacement as standard warranty. A brief word of caution for DIY buyers that use consumer displays. The display prices are attractively lower, but the displays are not built to operate in food service conditions and will not last. Most digital menu vendors don’t provide technical support for the consumer displays.

Dan Cadalora / Director of Business Development / Pacific Digital Signs

Pacific Digital Signs
offers turnkey digital menu board solutions that are easy to manage and are fully compliant with FDA regulations for Calorie displays. Restaurant owners can have their existing static food imagery digitized and animated to show steam rising from hot plates, or bubbles flowing up a glass. Pacific Digital Signs solutions are easily customized with any size of screen(s) & location including drive-through ordering.  Go to www.PacificDigitalSigns.com for more information on how we can help.


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