Where to Seek Menu Labeling Guidance: A Resource Guide for Restaurants

Chefs and restaurateurs can find all the menu labeling resources they need—from important FDA documents to online nutrition analysis software—on MenuCalc’s website.

Chefs and restaurateurs can find all the menu labeling resources they need—from important FDA documents to online nutrition analysis software—on MenuCalc’s website. Image source: Unsplash user Nick Karvounis.

I can’t believe 2017 flew by so quickly. It seems like just yesterday I was writing an article about the Trump administration’s menu labeling delay and speaking with restaurant owners and chefs who were relieved they had an extra year to comply with the FDA’s menu labeling guidelines.  

Now that 2018 is in full swing, however, chain restaurants of 20 or more locations are getting their new calorie-labeled menus ready for the May 7, 2018, compliance date. Based on my experience last year leading up to the delayed 2017 compliance date, the closer we get to May, the more questions I’ll be getting about all things related to menu labeling.

So, to anticipate some of those questions and respond in advance, I’m creating a resource guide for restaurants that tells you where to find the menu labeling guidance you need before the compliance date rolls on in. I know firsthand how time-consuming and frustrating clicking around the FDA’s site can be, so I am going to include everything you need to know right here.

Menu Labeling Guidance: What You Need to Know and Where to Find It

Essentially, the FDA’s menu labeling law requires that restaurant chains with 20 or more locations include accurate calorie counts alongside items on the menu. It also requires that restaurants make additional nutrition information (such as carbohydrates, protein, fat, and vitamin/mineral content) available upon customer request. Of course, the FDA has specific guidelines for how this information should be presented, so it is important that you know the details of the law.

For busy restaurateurs who haven’t spent much time familiarizing themselves with the FDA’s menu labeling laws, I usually recommend that you don’t head straight to the FDA’s website. While they do have great resources, they can be quite lengthy and confusing. Instead, I suggest starting with this Restaurant and Retail Food Menu Labeling whitepaper.

If you have questions after you read the whitepaper, try skimming through the Labeling Guide for Restaurants in order to get a general picture of what is expected in the FDA’s words. If certain things are still unclear, you can find more detailed information in the Nutrition Labeling for Standard Menu Items FDA guide. Not only does it outline the basics of food labeling, it also answers many frequently asked questions regarding the labeling process.

There are also a few other things to be aware of that tend to slip under people’s radar because they are get so caught up in working on their food menu. If you serve alcoholic beverages at your restaurant, I recommend familiarizing yourself with the information around the nutrition labeling for alcoholic beverages so you can make sure your drink menu is labeled properly. Also, if your establishment is a convenience store, you should definitely review the labeling guidelines specific to convenience stores.

Together, all these resources should give you a good understanding of what is expected of your establishment and a clear picture of what needs to be done next.

Analyze Your Recipes Quickly and Easily with Online Nutrition Analysis Software

Now that you have the information you need, it’s a good idea to start finding the calorie counts and nutrition information for your menu items. The easiest, quickest, and most affordable way to do this is by using an FDA-compliant online nutrition analysis software.

Compared to other methods of obtaining nutrition information for your food products—like food lab analysis, independent consultants, or CD-ROM programs—online software is incredibly user-friendly. Software like MenuCalc provides comprehensive video demos that guide users through the four-step process of analyzing food items. There are also menu labeling consultants available should you run into any trouble or come up with any questions concerning menu labeling compliance.

In addition, using an online nutrition analysis software allows you to obtain the calorie and nutrition results for your menu items in fewer than five minutes per recipe—no time at all compared to other methods. For food labs, for instance, it takes a lot of time to put together samples of each of your menu items to ship off, and labs can take up to a month to return your results.

Likewise, independent consultants with hundreds of clients may take several weeks to return your analyzed results. And while CD-ROMs allow you to do the analysis yourself, they are typically much trickier to use and can, therefore, take up more time. With online nutrition analysis software, on the other hand, all you need to do is create an account, enter the ingredients and measurements from a database of USDA ingredients, select your serving size, and watch as your nutrition and calorie information instantly generates.

Online nutrition software is also incredibly affordable compared to the other options for nutrition analysis. Indeed, part of the reason the FDA decided to delay the compliance date to this year was to give restaurants more time to find cost-effective options for menu labeling. So, if you are interested in minimizing costs associated with menu labeling compliance, I’d recommend using software like MenuCalc. Depending on how extensive your menu is, your monthly rate will fall between $49 and $249 dollars a month—hundreds of dollars cheaper than food labs and consultants, which can cost anywhere between $500 and $800 per recipe.

Now that you have a clear picture of the FDA’s menu labeling guidelines and understand the best way to obtain the required information, you can start working towards compliance. And while I know that May still seems very far away, if last year is any indication of how quickly time can fly, I suggest getting started now. That way, when May 7th rolls around, you’ll be completely prepared.

MenuCalc is an industry-leading online nutrition analysis software that helps restaurants get the calorie and nutrition information they need for their menus. Contact us to get started or try a free 15-day trial today.

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