Menu Labeling Compliance: How to Follow the FDA’s Guidelines

Being smart about research, consulting a menu labeling expert, and using an online nutrition analysis software can help you get calories on your menus.

Being smart about research, consulting a menu labeling expert, and using an online nutrition analysis software can help you get calories on your menus. Image source: Unsplash user Bimo Luki.

I know for a fact that the FDA’s guidelines for menu labeling drive a lot of people in the restaurant industry nuts. It’s a busy business, after all, and most people find it hard to make the time to get ready for menu labeling compliance, especially as business tends to pick up in the spring.

However, with menu labeling compliance upon us, chain restaurants with 20 or more locations have no choice but to comply—unless they want to receive a warning letter from the FDA. So, I have some tips that will help you make sure you have completed all the steps needed for menu labeling compliance. If you give this advice a try, you can rest easy knowing you have done a thorough job of checking all the necessary boxes.

Tip #1: Research Wisely

Now that the menu labeling compliance deadline is here, you really don’t have time to waste doing research on the menu labeling laws, so you have to research wisely. It can be seriously overwhelming to peruse the FDA’s website and scroll through lengthy documents in order to understand exactly what your establishment has to do for compliance. It’s all too easy to waste hours staring blankly at the computer screen only to end up even more confused about the menu labeling laws than you were to begin with.

Knowing where to seek menu labeling guidance is the key to researching wisely. Look for websites and blogs that speak to restaurant owners and chefs about menu labeling guidance before going to the FDA site. Often, they can guide you to the specific documents that will be useful to you while sparing you the rest. They may even break the rules down for you or provide simple, helpful tools, like a menu labeling checklist, that can guide you through the process of compliance. Just be sure to write down any questions that come up when you are researching—which leads me to my next tip!

Tip #2: Consult a Menu Labeling Expert

Once you have a general idea of what is required for menu labeling compliance, you might want to find a menu labeling expert who can help you figure out exactly what steps you should take next. At MenuCalc, our expert consultants can answer any questions you have or even perform the nutrition analysis for you. This can save you a lot of time and stress—especially when you are working on a tight deadline.

Menu labeling consultants will also be up to date with all the latest FDA changes around food labeling in the Common Sense Nutrition Disclosure Act, so they can advise you about the kind of labeling your restaurant needs. For instance, if your customers generally don’t dine in and instead order from a menu on your website and take food out, you may not need to provide calorie counts on your physical menus. These kinds of things are great to know before you dive into nutrition analysis and menu reprinting so you don’t waste time and money doing something that may no longer be required.

Perhaps the biggest benefit you get from consulting with a menu labeling expert is peace of mind that you are doing things in compliance with the FDA’s guidelines. They’ll be able to guide you throughout the process of compliance, look at your menu, and check your work so you don’t have to worry about receiving a letter from the FDA stating that you’ve failed to comply with their regulations.

Tip #3: Use Online Nutrition Analysis Software to Obtain Calorie Counts and Nutrition Info

Once you’ve done your research and have consulted with a menu labeling expert, it’s time to analyze your recipes for calorie and nutrition information. After all, using an online nutrition analysis software to get that information is the fastest and most efficient way to comply with the FDA’s guidelines.

Lab analysis may be necessary for any menu items that are deep-fried, but since lab analysis is very expensive (up to $700 per analysis compared to $250 using online software) and can take a while to return results (up to a month), I definitely recommend that you analyze the rest of your recipes yourself using an FDA-compliant online software like MenuCalc.

Online nutrition analysis software allows you to analyze your recipes by simply entering your recipes and serving sizes using a highly accurate USDA-compiled database. Once they’ve been entered, your calorie and nutrition information is instantly generated. It can take as little as a few minutes to get one recipe finished. What’s also great is that software like MenuCalc analyzes your results to determine if your recipes are eligible for any nutrient content claims, like “low-fat” or “high-fiber.” You can then use these claims on your menu to promote the health benefits of certain dishes.

Ensuring Menu Labeling Compliance

If you are running behind on any of these steps, remember that the Common Sense Nutrition Act does have a 90-day compliance window that gives you the chance to fix any mistakes with your menu labeling without penalty. I hope, though, that these tips help you understand how to be sure you have properly followed the FDA’s guidelines for menu labeling compliance.

MenuCalc is an industry-leading online nutrition analysis software used by many restaurant professionals to comply with the FDA menu labeling laws. To get started today, contact us or try our free 15-day trial.

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