When Does Menu Labeling Take Effect? Tips for Meeting the Deadline

Using online nutrition analysis software, hiring expert menu labeling consultants, and knowing the recent labeling updates are key to being ready for menu labeling compliance in May.

Using online nutrition analysis software, hiring expert menu labeling consultants, and knowing the recent labeling updates are key to being ready for menu labeling compliance in May. Image source: Unsplash user Levi Elizaga.

This time last year, I was writing articles thinking the menu labeling compliance date was just around the corner. Now, a year later, I find myself in the same position. This time, though, there isn’t going to be a delay to fall back on.

Restaurants and establishments selling restaurant-style foods with 20 or more locations are gearing up across the nation to add calories and nutrition information to their menus. And for those who may not have started getting the information needed for compliance, you’re probably wondering, “When does menu labeling take effect?” Well, friends, May 7, 2018, is the big day.

While there are only two months to go before restaurants will be legally required to provide calorie and nutrition information, there is still time to label your menu. I’m going to give you some tips and tools to help you get your menu labeling done in compliance with the FDA’s guidelines as quickly as possible. And if you start now, you can certainly be ready by the time May 7 rolls around.   

Tip # 1: Know the FDA’s Rules

Before you get started with the actual work involved in menu labeling, it’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with the latest version of the FDA’s menu labeling guidelines. There have been a lot of changes recently, so I’ll walk you through the most important ones that came into effect with the Common Sense Nutrition Disclosure Act:

  • Calorie ranges are acceptable for menu items that have a number of variations (i.e. pizzas and sandwiches), rather than providing separate calories for each variation.
  • Calories may only need to be provided on your restaurant’s website if most orders are not made in-house (i.e. as in pizza delivery restaurants).
  • There is a 90-day compliance window for the menu labeling laws, so if you violate are in them in some way, you will be given 90 days to make the necessary changes without receiving fines.

While these are some of the most important rules, there are many more specific guidelines you need to be aware of, so make sure you do your research.

Tip # 2: Speak with a Menu Labeling Consultant

If sifting through dry FDA documents isn’t really your thing (and to be frank, you don’t have a lot of time to do that anyway), I’d recommend speaking with a menu labeling consultant. They will be well-versed in the FDA rules and regulations and can tell you exactly what you need to do to comply in time. They can even work with you to ensure everything is done correctly.

This can be a huge timesaver and can make the whole process of menu labeling compliance much less stressful. Think of it as an investment because consultants can save you from violations, fines, and many, many headaches down the road.

Tip # 3: Use Online Nutrition Analysis Software

When it comes to actually doing the nutrition analysis that is necessary in order to get your calorie counts and nutrition information, I recommend using a reputable, FDA-compliant online nutrition analysis software. Not only is it a much quicker method of analysis than food labs, but it is also much simpler than using CD-ROM programs.

Using software like MenuCalc, all you have to do is create an account, enter your recipes and serving sizes, and your calorie counts and nutrition info will instantly generate. It can take as little as five minutes to analyze a recipe—maybe even less! You’ll also get a complete allergen report and find out if your recipes qualify for nutrient content claims like low-fat or low-sodium.

The only reason you’d need to use a food lab is if your restaurant has fried foods. In this case, you’ll need to send samples of your fried items to a lab. I recommend that you do this very soon, as food labs can take up to a month to return results. Also, I suggest that you only send the items that are fried and analyze the rest of your recipes using an online nutrition analysis software, as it will save you a ton of money. Sending a single sample to a food lab can cost as much as $800, whereas software like MenuCalc allows you to analyze an unlimited number of recipes for as little as $250 a month.

If you’re feeling tight on time and don’t think you have it in you to do the analysis yourself, some software gives you the option of having a consultant do the analysis for you. That way, all you have to do is submit your recipes and they’ll do the rest.

The Countdown to Compliance Begins

If you start now and take my tips to heart, I am confident you can have your restaurant ready by the May 7 deadline. The only catch is, you’ve got to start now. Learning about the labeling laws takes time, even if you decide to hire a menu labeling consultant. And while online nutrition analysis is the speediest, cheapest, and easiest option, it still takes a bit of time. No method is instant!

I know May seems like a ways away, especially if you live somewhere where it still feels like the dead of winter, but it is fast approaching. So, best of luck to you with your preparations in the coming months! It might be a bit of a push, but come May, you’ll be glad you did what you had to do. After all, the country is counting on you.

MenuCalc is an industry-leading online nutrition analysis software that can help you meet the menu labeling compliance date with ease. Our expert menu labeling consultants would be happy to help you every step of the way. To get started, contact us today.

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