Common FDA Menu Labeling Questions: A Mini-FAQ for Compliance

Food industry professionals ask their most pressing questions with less than a month until the menu labeling compliance deadline.

Food industry professionals ask their most pressing questions with less than a month until the menu labeling compliance deadline. Image source: Unsplash user Alex Holyoake.

Since the menu labeling compliance date, I’ve been busy helping restaurants, cafes, grocery stores, and convenience stores get ready for the change. It’s been a real whirlwind, and I some people will still have questions about the details of menu labeling.

So, before things get too crazy, I thought I would take the time to address some of the common FDA menu labeling questions I’ve been getting asked lately. I hope this mini-FAQ will help you feel more confident and clear about menu labeling compliance. 

I am using an online nutrition analysis software to analyze my menu items. Will the FDA allow me to use this method to analyze fried foods like french fries or spring rolls?

No. Online nutrition analysis software is a very affordable, quick, and easy way to analyze your menu items, but unfortunately, this may not be the most suitable method for analyzing fried foods. The reason for this is that it is impossible to determine how much oil is absorbed during the frying process. Therefore, accurate analysis can only be done in a lab by means of chemical analysis.

I strongly recommend you use online nutrition analysis software for all your non-fried menu items and simply send samples of your fried items to a food lab for chemical analysis. While you may be tempted to just send all your menu items to a lab to keep things consistent, lab analysis is extremely expensive (upwards of $700 per analysis) and time-consuming, so only do what is absolutely necessary at the lab.

I own a chain of Italian restaurants and a section of my menu is pizzas. They are all very similar but have slight variations. Am I required to provide calorie counts for each individual pizza?

In short, the answer is no. The recent Common Sense Nutrition Disclosure Act, which was introduced by the Trump Administration, doesn’t require individual calorie counts for a series of similar menu items such as pizzas, sandwiches, and salads that have slight variations.

Instead, you may provide one of the following options:

  • Calorie Ranges: Rather than listing each menu item with its own calorie count, you may include a range with the lowest and highest calorie amounts in that specific food category. This range should appear next to the menu heading for that category (i.e. Pizzas – Calories: 800-1200).  
  • Calorie Averages: Instead of providing a calorie range, you may choose to provide a calorie average. To do so, you must figure out the calorie counts for each item, add them all up, and divide by the number of calorie counts you have in that category. The number you get is the average, and just like the calorie ranges, it can be placed next to the menu heading for the category (i.e. Pizzas – Average calories: 987).
  • Reference Calorie Count: You may also choose to provide the calorie count for one item in that menu category. This can be used as a reference for the other items (i.e. Pepperoni pizza – Cal: 960).

Most of the orders for my restaurant are takeout orders placed over the phone. Do I still have to include nutrition information and calorie counts in my storefront?

No. If your establishment is strictly a takeout restaurant and the majority of people phone in their orders or place them online, you do not need to provide calorie counts and nutrition information in your store. You are, however, required to provide calorie counts on your website’s menu and this must be done in compliance with the FDA’s regulations. You must also have an easily accessible resource on your website that includes all the detailed nutrition information for each menu item.

Can I be fined by the FDA if I make an error in my calorie counts or the way I label my menus?

Yes and no. There are consequences if your establishment fails to comply with the FDA’s guidelines for menu labeling. Luckily, however, if you have made an error, the FDA will send a notice of violation that will let you know what you have done wrong and what steps need to be taken to fix your error. And, thanks to the Common Sense Nutrition Disclosure Act, you will have a 90-day compliance window to do so. As long as you make any necessary changes in that time frame, enforcement action won’t be taken.

While the FDA allows for human error when it comes to calorie counts, any misleading or grossly inaccurate information is not tolerated. That’s why it is critical to maximize accuracy with a reputable recipe analysis software, like MenuCalc.

Additional Resources to Aid in Menu Labeling Compliance

If you have questions that are still unanswered, I encourage you to scroll through the MenuCalc blog and have a look at our past posts. There is a lot of valuable menu labeling information there, from menu labeling checklists to tips for meeting the deadline, so be sure to take advantage of it.

If you are on a tight timeline and need an answer ASAP, I suggest you reach out to our expert menu labeling consultants. They will be able to help you with anything you need in order to get ready for compliance and can even do your analysis for you.

I hope this FAQ has helped answer some of your questions. Best of luck to everyone getting ready for menu labeling compliance! If you make use of the above resources and keep your head down, you’ll be able to feel confident you’ve completed all the necessary steps. 

MenuCalc is an industry-leading online nutrition analysis software that helps restaurants, cafes, grocery stores, and convenience stores get ready for the FDA menu labeling compliance date. For more information, contact us today.

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