In 2010, the US Congress passed the Affordable Care Act (ACA). In the ACA was Section 4205 which defined a menu calorie labeling provision. This applies to you if:
You are a retail food establishment with 20 or more locations
How this works is that after Congress passes the law, it is the FDA’s responsibility to provide the final rules of how to implement the law. The first draft of the rules appeared on April 6th, 2011 in the federal register.
Now you might be wondering, it is already 2013, so what happened to the final rules? We reached out to the FDA on the status of this legislation and these are the answers we got back (the answers are paraphrased).
Question 1: When will the FDA issue final rules on Section 4205?
We are still working on the final rule so unfortunately, I cannot give you an estimate of when it will be published. I can tell you it won’t be out by the end of the year but hopefully should be out within the next year. It will be announced in the Federal Register as well as on the FDA website.
Question 2: How will restaurants be able to calculate the calorie values for their food entrees?
As we discussed in the proposed rule, restaurants and other food establishments have a number of options for determining calorie counts. They may use nutrient databases, cookbooks, lab analyses among other methods. But you need to wait until the final rule is out. There may be additions or edits to what we proposed in April 2011.
In parsing what the FDA has said, it looks like restaurants have 3 options:
For existing cookbooks, I think the FDA is saying if you see a calorie content in an existing cookbook, you can use that as a reference value. Personally I think this is kind of weird as I haven't really seen that many cookbooks with calorie values.
Lab Analyses is the situation where you send your food into a lab. This is rather cost prohibitive since it costs about $500 per food to get the calorie value.
This is the method where restaurants can use programs or websites that are backed by a nutrient database. This is the most cost effective method of getting your calorie data.
At Menutail, we use the nutrient database provided by the USDA. When looking at the content of the databases, restaurants should be able to handle mostly all of their recipes, with one major exception -- juices.
Juices are the juice of a vegetable or a fruit that is run through ajuicer. An example is kale juice, carrot juice, etc.
So if your restaurant had a juice made up of apple, kale, and carrot, the only way of getting that calorie data to send a sample to a lab. That in itself would be very cost prohibitive.
We will be watching what the FDA would be saying in the final regulations and we will post the update here.
Meanwhile if the FDA does enforce calorie values on juices, your restaurant may need to make some tweaks in your menu to avoid getting hit with the huge cost of sending juices to a lab.
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