As you may have heard, federal law requires specific menu labeling regulations for certain restaurants. Chains with 20 or more locations (all operating with the same name) must provide calorie, allergy and other nutrition labeling for standard menu items. Since Americans now consume 1/3 of their calories away from home, the federal government wants to help people make healthier choices when dining out.
Ensuring Compliance with FDA Food Labeling Laws
Compliance with FDA Food Labeling Laws can be tough. The law is straightforward, but there are many moving parts. The law mandates: “Calories must be clear and prominent on menus and menu boards and on signs next to self-service foods and foods on display. For calorie declarations on menus and menu boards, the size of the calorie declaration must be no smaller than the size of the name or the price of the menu item it refers to, whichever is smaller.”
Some restaurants, such as those in the healthy-eating sector, may have already adopted nutritional labeling. But for those that haven’t, the new law creates an operational step that will be time-consuming, and expensive. Not to mention, error-prone!
What Are the Options?
Restaurateurs and food businesses have to compile nutritional information from the USDA or directly from vendors. (In some cases, both.) Or, they need to hire nutritionists or food scientists to run detailed analysis on all menu offerings. That creates a new hidden cost for doing business, since nutritional analysis by food scientists or laboratories can average $1,000 to $5,000 a pop! That cost is repeated every menu cycle, and doesn’t take into account ingredient swaps and substitutions.
Given the current popularity of Farm-to-Table, seasonal and locally-sourced menus, the cost to put together a menu could multiply quarterly, monthly, weekly or daily by thousands and thousands of dollars. Plus, operators have to update their menu boards, kiosks, apps, and websites.
Operators must ensure all recipes and menus contain the correct values. This not only helps with FDA compliance, but also provides protection from liability. Consider food allergies. By law, every menu item must note food allergies. Keeping your guests safe is critical. If someone with a nut allergy eats something that has nuts in it, there are major liability issues if your menu didn’t have a warning.
If you can’t get complete and accurate data from your vendors, consult the USDA food composition database. The website has an exhaustive, searchable database that operators can use to look up nutritional information for any protein, fruit, vegetable or condiment, including nutritional values down to a drop of hot sauce by brand. Still, the process takes more time than operators expect, especially for operators using manual, legacy systems.
The Power of Automation
Automation that incorporates one true data source is the key to making the nutritional-labeling transition as smooth and error-free as possible.
With nutritional data correlated in one system, operators are free to automate the process. It also provides a mechanism for vendors to automatically update the information in the system. If vendors send a spreadsheet or an Excel document, operators can easily upload it themselves in mass updates, rather than one ingredient at a time. A good system should also have a direct link to the USDA database already embedded in the data platform.
All nutritional details can then be publishable on paper recipe cards. On the digitized side, it can be published to service tablets, websites, additional signage. And finally, it allows operators to print their menus with the relevant information.
Technology has already changed the way operators handle the menu-engineering process. Now, operators can use it to ensure they capture legally required allergen and nutritional data and present it to customers with ease on their websites, social media and menus. It starts with an ingredient and carries through to serving a customer, one accurate version of the truth.
To learn more about ensuring compliance with FDA Food Labeling Regulations download our complimentary white paper.