Monday, December 29, 2008

Menu Labeling – Who Knew?

Another day, another call and I’m still finding that restaurants that fall under the menu labeling laws consider themselves exempt; either because they’re franchised owned (doesn’t matter you still need to comply), or simply didn’t know.

I understand that I work at a company that handles regulation compliance for restaurants, so naturally I stay current on menu labeling laws, their individual deadlines, and nutrition requirements. But with menu labeling listed as number three on the NRA’s hot topic list for 2009, and the amount of press each law has received, I find it odd that restaurants who are clearly under the law are baffled when I call.

I’m not going to sugar-coat this; nutrition labeling is a large feat for a lot of restaurants. They have to re-print their menus, re-design and put up new menu boards, and in some cases they have to label the deli counter cookies with calorie cards (just like you see in Starbucks). And, as simple as companies like MenuCalc make the gathering of nutrition information, it is still an extra task for busy foodservice managers.

Even so, these laws are upon us now, I was shocked to find that many chain restaurants in New York City still have not posted calorie counts on their menu boards (their law went into effect in May 2008), and have yet to even have their menus nutritionally analyzed….

As I discovered through my market research calls, chain restaurants with locations in King County Washington who’s menu labeling law will take effect on January 1, ummm’d and arrr’d when I called to find out how their nutrition information was coming along. With one company I was transferred 3 times to someone who “knew about this stuff.” With deadlines looming I feel it necessary to bring to the forefront dates and deadlines for chain restaurants that will need to post nutrition information on their menus and menu boards.

Area AffectedEnforcement DateMore Information
New York City, NYMay 5th, 2008http://www.menucalc.com/images/NY_%20calorie_compliance_guide.pdf
King County, WAJanuary 1st, 2009http://www.menucalc.com/ images/White%20Paper%20KC%20(1208).pdf
California (statewide)July 1st, 2009http://www.menucalc.com/images/CA.pdf
Multnomah County, ORJuly 15th, 2009http://www.menucalc.com/images/Multnomah.pdf
Philadelphia, PAJanuary 1st, 2010http://www.menucalc.com/images/Philadelphia.pdf
Worchester County, NYTBA 

I hope this helps the industry and remember so can we!

--Alyson Z. Mar, RD

Monday, December 22, 2008

The Truth About Nutrition Analysis

Throughout the last 6+ years of running a nutrition analysis company with emphasis on compliance, I have found there to be a huge amount of misinformation surrounding nutrition analysis. I have worked directly with food manufacturers of all sizes and restaurants of all cuisine and each time we talk I hear the same pattern of questions and concerns, such as:

· “I was told I have to use a laboratory”
· “The consultant on the phone said they use the only FDA approved software”
· “We can’t do the nutritional analysis because we’re not a Registered Dietitian or Food Scientist”

Just the other day I was speaking with the FDA about approval processes and why so many companies say they are “FDA approved” when our conversation was cut short by the FDA agent saying: “That’s completely untrue! We have to send out warning letters to companies telling them to stop referring to themselves as FDA approved. The only things we approve are health and disease related claims.”

It really frustrates me when I hear that type of propaganda because I know the truth. I often tell people even if they end up using one of FoodCalc’s analysis products: “there are others ways that you can analyze your food/menu items. You can do any of the following four options”:

1. Laboratory – You make the product, pack it in dry ice and mail it to the facility and wait a few weeks for the results
2. CD Rom – You purchase CD software and install it on one computer with the required system criteria
3. 3rd Party Consultants – You either fax, email or phone in your recipes that have purchased a CD and installed on their computer
4. Web-based Solutions – You create a secured account (like online banking) and enter your ingredients directly into a nutrition analysis database. This is FoodCalc’s process.

Not every option will save you time and money so it’s important to understand what you get for your money. Just because a laboratory is a chemical facility doesn’t mean to chemically analyze; some if not all offer CD Rom based results. I was told once that a restaurant spent around $60,000 using a laboratory and waited months for their nutrition results. I’ve also been told that company’s computer crashed with all their ingredient data installed on the CD and they had back-track years or work to re-analyze their labels.

When it comes to nutrition analysis you want to make sure the company is using current ingredient data, they have a back-up system for your peace of mind, they have expert staff to answer your questions and dispel any dishonesty and most importantly you feel comfortable using them.

Call them…. email them….. Ask questions, after all it’s your recipe!


Happy Holidays,

Lucy Needham