Boy, I wish I had a crystal ball. For more than three years I've been discussing menu labeling and just when I think menu labeling legislation regulations are about to be announced, I'm still waiting, as are all of you.
So what, exactly, is the holdup?
Everyone has known from the beginning of this proposed legislation that major issues exist. These issues were recently highlighted at the National Restaurant Association's Quality Assurance conference, held in Baltimore in early October. While four issues were covered, for the purpose of this blog, we're going to look at three.
At the top of this list is covered establishments.
As currently proposed, the legislation covers a retail establishment that offers restaurant or restaurant-type food for sale to consumers. The sale of this food must be the primary business activity of the establishment, which means more than 50 percent of the establishment's gross floor area is used for the preparation, purchase, service, consumption or storage of food items.
Under this heading, retail establishments such as movie theaters, amusement parks, hotels, train stations and airplanes are eliminated from having to showcase nutritional information, despite an increase in food-type purchases from these establishments. Also exempt are many grocery stores and convenience stores.
The second issue surrounds the reasonable basis of nutritionals listed. For example, a reasonable basis may be based on nutrient databases, cookbooks, lab analyses or other means of nutritional calculation. This has proven controversial because pizzeria operators, for example, have no realistic way of determining nutritional information for every combination of pizzas ordered by customers. There also are variations of size.
As of right now, the FDA has proposed that menu items available in different varieties or combinations, but are listed as a single menu item, are given a range of calories with that range communicated to the public.
Also in the current proposal, the Food & Drug Administration scaled back protection of the reasonable basis standard for restaurants, opting to enforce the same standard devised for packaged foods. Additionally, restaurant operators must be able to provide — in writing — the nutritional information found on items in grocery stores. This would include:
One final issue is the legislation's effective date. The legislation was published April 6, 2011, with comments to be submitted no later than July 5. The FDA received about 900 comments and has yet to give a final rule on the legislation.
While the waiting game isn't an always fun one to play, this delay is truly a gift. Restaurant operators can use this time to get better prepared. Gather your menu items, find a nutritional third-party partner and then 'flip the fear' (as we like to say here at MenuTrinfo) on providing this information to diners.