Jason Tober
Blog, Restaurant reporting

If you run a QSR, you’ve probably heard of the FDA’s May 2018 regulations for menu labeling. On top of everything else you’re busy handling, these new regulations can seem overwhelming.

But with a little spin on the issue, you can consider it an opportunity. First of all, this is a great time to consider your food: are there some healthier options you can integrate into your menu to show off to consumers? Will these guidelines highlight the menu you already have? And how can you cover all your bases for menu labeling?

Here’s everything you need to know about the FDA’s menu labeling regulations.

What is the menu labeling final rule?

If you think you’re experiencing deja vu, you’re not crazy. The FDA was originally going to start enforcing the menu regulations rule last year but decided to take time for “further consideration.” But now, it seems like it’s here to stay.

The menu labeling final rule is fairly simple: affected establishments (those with 20 or more locations) are required to provide calorie and nutrition information to customers. Although it’s certainly an investment of time and energy for your already-busy establishment, it’s grounded in the FDA’s desire to provide transparency to customers.

How does this impact your QSR?

It doesn’t matter if you run a sit-down restaurant, an ice cream parlor, a deli, a pizza place, or a bakery: it’s now mandatory to display calories and nutrition facts on every menu item offered in your establishment. So, overhaul those menu boards and update your online menus. Make sure that your labeling is clear and the calorie count is close to the relevant item. In other words, your customers should know immediately which calorie total aligns with which menu item.

You also need to be able to provide the following written information by request:

  1. Total fat, saturated fat, and trans fat
  2. Cholesterol
  3. Sodium
  4. Total carbohydrates
  5. Sugars
  6. Fiber
  7. Protein

Once you have all your nutrients and calorie counts documented and ready to go, there are a couple more statements you need to have in view for your customers:

  1. You need to state that all nutritional information (as listed above) is available upon request.
  2. Your customers need to clearly see this succinct statement that the FDA requires: “2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice, but calorie needs vary.”

Four ways to ease the transition:

We understand this will take time to develop, but there are some ways to ease the transition:

1. Learn how to round calories

The FDA’s rounding rules for calories can seem a little confusing, but here’s the basic breakdown:

  1. Fewer than five calories are expressed as zero on the menu.
  2. If the menu item has between five and 50 calories, it is rounded to the nearest increment of five. For example, an item with 22 calories is rounded to the nearest increment of five, which is 20. But you would round an item with 23 calories to 25.
  3. If your item has greater than 50 calories, it is rounded to the nearest increment of 10. For example, you would round a 127-calorie item to 130 calories.

2. Know what is meant by “reasonable basis”

Basically, “reasonable basis” means that the FDA understands that there are variable nutritional components of menu items. They expect you to thoroughly research calorie and nutrition totals through sources like cookbooks, lab analyses, or nutrient databases. However, they understand that natural deviation affects these totals.

They especially allow flexibility for “non-uniform” items like prepared vegetables and whole fruits. They expect variations for these items since not all pieces of broccoli have an identical nutritional profile. As long as you can document how you arrived at an average for a specific item, you will be in compliance.

3. Make sure you document

Although the regulations allow for a “reasonable basis,” they don’t allow for improper documentation. You need to be prepared to back up your calculations when prompted. For example, if you used a cookbook to calculate calorie and nutrient totals, you’ll need to be able to provide the cookbook on request. If you used a database, the FDA guidelines suggest using one with a name and version number, since it will be easier to reference if you’re asked.

4. Make training a priority

For added peace of mind, train your staff thoroughly on the FDA guidelines. With training, your staff will be able to respond to customers’ questions quickly and confidently. And if you’re transparent with your staff, they’ll be able to relay that confidence and ease to customers.

According to a recent study, transparency truly counts: nearly 94% of consumers say that it’s important for them to know what’s in their food.

Though they require a little bit of extra work up front, the new FDA menu labeling rules offer you a chance to show your customers not only the nutritional profile of your best menu items but also highlight honesty, openness, and efficiency in your business.

Ebook: Technology is changing, are your restaurants ready?