MenuTrinfo is one of the nation’s leading experts on menu labeling regulations. Our team of experienced and knowledgeable Culinary Nutritionists can help ensure your brand stays compliant with all federal and local laws. Our consulting services are flexible to help meet the dynamic needs of your company.

Here are just a few of the questions we can help answer regarding the menu labeling regulations. If you have further questions and would like to chat with a member of our team, give us a call today at 970-295-4370.

Am I Covered?

I have franchise units that operate in several different states, and a few are only in one state. Do the five units in one state have to comply with the menu labeling law?

The distribution of locations does not matter. If a restaurant or similar retail food establishment has 20 or more locations in the United States doing business under the same name, they are considered a covered establishment.

What is the best way to determine if my business is a franchise? We are a corporate food company- each location operates under a different name; however, most include our branding on napkins, etc.

The easiest way to figure out if you’re a covered establishment is this four-question self-evaluation:

  1. Are you a restaurant or similar retail food establishment? This is determined by whether or not you’re serving “restaurant-type food” which is food that is consumed by the guest immediately after purchasing, or soon after arriving at a location.
  2. Are you part of a chain with 20 or more locations? These are physical locations.
  3. Are you doing business under the same name, regardless of ownership?
  4. Are you selling “substantially the same” menu items?

If you answer yes to all four of these questions, you are a covered establishment.

Font/Color/Size

We have seen McDonalds and Panda Express with menu labeling using different colors and sizes. Price vs. calories. Will that be acceptable?

The calorie declaration must be the in the same color and have the same contrasting background color as the name of the item, or at least as conspicuous. It doesn’t need to be identical as long as it’s still easy-to-read. The font size must be the same as the name or the price; you may use whichever is smaller.

Certifications

Can or will the franchisor that has upheld their end of the requirements be held accountable for the franchisee that is not compliant?

This is something that should be built into franchisor-franchisee contracts. Franchisees need to be able to certify that they are following corporate procedures, or else they will need to complete their own nutritional analysis for their different methods. Both parties will be held accountable. (see next question)

How do we certify our information?

The first step for having approved certifications for the FDA is to determine the “reasonable basis” behind your posted nutritional values. The FDA has approved several analytical methods for generating nutritional information. Nutrient database analysis, laboratory analysis and cookbooks are the three methods that are cited most frequently in the menu labeling publications. Combinations of these “reasonable bases” may also be used.

The information above, whether supplied by a third party (like MenuTrinfo) or not, must also be accompanied by a signed and dated statement by a responsible individual at the corporate level who can attest to the methods used and declare that they are reasonable and accurate.

A second certification is also required from the covered establishment. Give us a call at 970-295-4370 to learn more about this piece of the regulations.

Exemptions

Since LTO’s are allowed to be on the menu for less than 60 days, if a restaurant runs a yearly LTO (i.e. Thanksgiving sandwich) would the 60 days run calendar year or is it 60 days for each LTO item?

Limited time offers that are on the menu for less than 60 days per calendar year (both consecutive and non-consecutive) are exempt for menu labeling. They can be served for multiple years in a row, as long as they aren’t offered more than 60 days per calendar year.

Self-Serve Foods

Is it acceptable to provide a brochure for self-serve items like salad bars? If it is acceptable, can all items presented on the bar (lunch, brunch, dinner) be listed within one place?

For self-serve items, the FDA has identified several approved methods to label calories on menus:

  • On a sign, adjacent to and clearly associated with the corresponding food item
  • On a sign attached to a sneeze guard with the calorie declaration and the serving or unit used to determine the calorie content above each specific menu item so that the consumer can clearly associate the calorie declaration with the standard menu item
  • On a single sign or placard listing the calorie declaration for several menu items along with the names of the menu items, so long as the sign or placard is located where a consumer can view the name, calorie declaration, and serving or unit of a particular menu item while the consumer is selecting that item.
    • The sign must list the names of the menu items along with the corresponding calorie declarations. This sign may be placed on the wall behind the station, on a sign at the beginning or end of the station, or at another location so long as the consumer can read the name, calorie declaration, and serving or unit of a particular menu item while selecting the menu item

A brochure would likely not be acceptable as the guest would not be able to clear identify which item correlated to the correct calorie counts.

Multi-Serving Dishes

Are pizza calorie counts supposed to by the entire pie or by the slice? Since most pizzas are ordered for more than one person to share, and they are cut into a certain number of slices, how does the law address this?

Calorie labels for pizza (or other multi-serving dishes) can be done two different ways:

  1. By the entire portion served. If a dish does not come already split into discrete units for the guest, it must be labeled for the entire portion. This would be how you would label things like catering pans of pasta or appetizer servings of dips.
  2. By the discrete serving unit. This applies for things like pizzas that come pre-cut to the diner (in uniform slices) or a basket of breadsticks as an appetizer. When using this method, the calories must be listed for one discrete unit, and the total number of units must also be declared.
    1. For example, Large Cheese Pizza: 250 cal/slice, 8 slices

In sub shops, is it ok if the calories are listed next to the size of the sub?

The calories must be listed adjacent to the name or the price of the item. If you offer multiple sizes and they are listed on your menu boards, then you must have calories for every size (you can use ranges or slashes where needed).

Toppings

If toppings listed on the menu board are free of charge, do you need to list calories?

Yes. Just because there is not an explicit price listed next to the toppings, it is implied in the price that was paid for the original item. For example, a guest could not come in and just order a free topping, he or she would have to purchase the base item first and then add on any additional free toppings.  Call us for further help with toppings.

Alcohol/Beverages

Do alcoholic beverages need to be listed on the menu boards?

Any alcoholic beverages that are listed on menu boards or menus must have calories declared. However, if you do not already have these listed on your menu boards, you are not required to add them just to fulfill that portion of the rule.

Reasonable Basis

What is the allowable variance in calorie counts per item?

The FDA has not identified a percentage below/above your stated values that the actual nutritional values can be and still be compliant. Rather, they have stated that there must be a “reasonable basis” behind the posted values.

The FDA does not have a list of databases that would comply with the guidelines. However, the USDA has the gold standard in nutritional databases with its National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference and that is the one we at MenuTrinfo use (SR27) at our core and then add all of our specific client and distributor items. That’s tens of thousands of items in total as of 2018.

We encourage you to partner with MenuTrinfo for your nutritional needs! Any source that can be defended as a “reasonable basis” can be used to calculate the nutritional values of a food. We can most certainly help you, so give us a call to discuss. 970-295-4370

Disclaimer: The information contained on this page is not legal advice and we are not lawyers. The reader assumes all responsibility for any and all use of this information. Please consult MenuTrinfo directly for specific menu labeling questions. We would LOVE to have you be a partner client and obtain  specific advice and menu labelling consulting.  This is GENERAL FREE opinions.  This page may be updated periodically. 9/1/18

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