On Friday, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) released proposed regulations for the calorie-labeling mandate that quick-serve operators have been expecting since it was passed with health care reform in March of last year.

As expected, fast food companies with 20 or more units will be affected by the regulations. The FDA states that “retail food establishments that are part of a chain with 20 or more locations doing business under the same name and offering for sale substantially the same menu items” will be affected.

An additional set of proposed regulations was passed for the vending machine industry.

The FDA is inviting the public to comment on the proposed regulations for a 60-day period. The National Restaurant Association (NRA), which supported the mandate when it was initially passed, is encouraging its members to provide feedback on the regulations in order to make them as advantageous to the operator as possible.

Dan Roehl, public affairs specialist with the NRA, says the FDA’s proposed regulations ultimately “have demonstrated greater flexibility and hopefully reflects some of the input that people put in about the complexities of the industry,” he says. “And there are certainly some areas where I think you’ll continue to see us provide some feedback to the FDA.”

Roehl says one of the hardest aspects of the proposed regulations from the operators’ perspective will be the cost of implementing the changes in the stores.

“One of the ways that we think you can help minimize that cost is through the implementation timeline,” he says. “The FDA has suggested 6 months, we’ve recommended a year, and I think we’ll continue to suggest a year.

“What that does is it allows more and more restaurant operators to make the updates to their menuboards to include calories … in their natural menu and menuboard change-out cycle, and that really helps drive down the costs in the industry.”

Industries that are not included in the proposed regulations include movie theaters, airplanes, and bowling alleys—any companies whose primary business is not to sell food, according to the FDA.

Roehl says the NRA is maintaining a conversation with the FDA about the proposed regulations, and that any feedback from member operators can be directed to either organization.

Moving forward, Roehl says, the NRA is planning on working to ensure that the FDA regulations will be consistent across the entire restaurant industry.

“One of the goals of setting a national standard is to ensure that you have just one standard for nutrition disclosure, similar to what exists for packaged food today,” he says. “I think you will see us, as this law evolves, ensure that it’s really being enforced, that you really do have that one national standard that exists as a result of this.”

The proposed regulations can be accessed online at the FDA’s website. 

By Sam Oches

Consumer Trends, Legal, Menu Innovations, News, Ordering, Restaurant Operations