Monday, February 7, 2011

Setting the Record Straight: What’s going on with the National Menu Labeling Law?

Setting the Record Straight:  What’s going on with the National Menu Labeling Law?

As many of you know, the National Health Care Reform Bill that president Obama signed into law last year includes a menu labeling section.  This law will require chain restaurants to provide nutrition facts on menus and menuboards.  I detailed more information about the law as it was initiallywritten in a previous blog post.  If you take a look at the information provided in the initial passage of this law, you will see that it is pretty skimpy. 

Since the law’s passage I have been getting a lot of questions from my clients and other restaurant operators about how this law will affect them, and what they will need to do.  My answer to most of their questions: “I don’t know”.  It’s not just me; there is a lot that has simply not yet been written by the FDA who is responsible for writing and enforcing this law.

The thing that has a lot of us worried is that the law states that it should go into affect one year from the bill’s passage: that’s March 23, 2011; really soon for not having all the facts yet.  To avoid panic I contacted a colleague, in public affairs at the National Restaurant Association.  He confirmed that we are still without a set timeline or set posting rules for this legislation, but they (the FDA) have alluded to the fact that they will be releasing details by the one year anniversary of the legislation (better late than never right?).  Because the law, in its entirety will have just been released at that point, restaurants will not be expected to comply right away; that date is still to be determined. 

Here are some common questions I get from operators that we are hoping will be answered in the final version of the law:

·         How to display variations of a singly listed menu item (i.e. choice of sides, flavors, sizes,…etc).
·         When and how the law will be enacted andenforced.
·         If self-service (buffet) items will need to belabeled.
·         If trans fat values will need to be labeled.
·         Exact font size specifications. 
·         If marketing materials/promo menus will beaffected.
·         If food tags/items on display will need to belabeled.
·         If catering menus will be affected.

In summary:  Sit tight, we are still waiting to hear all ofthe rules.  Nevertheless, all restaurants with 20 or more locations shouldstart preparing for nutrition disclosure ASAP. 

UPDATE:  The FDA has withdrawn the original draft of the law that was previously introduced.  This means that the limited information that we have had for the past few months is no longer valid pending final draft of the law to be released to the public March 23, 2011.

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