FDA Rolls Out Calorie Menu Requirements For Restaurants And Vending Machines

Food service businesses may be obligated to comply with a new Food and Drug Administration (“FDA”) requirement to add calorie information for items on restaurant menus and products in vending machines.  While some food service businesses have voluntarily complied with posting the nutritional information, the deadline for compliance for many restaurant establishments is quickly approaching (May 7, 2018).  Glass-front vending machines can wait until July 26, 2018, to post calorie labels.

What does the new labeling requirements mean for your business?

If you are a restaurant, calorie labeling is required for chain restaurants and food establishments with 20 or more locations.  Standard menu items (including on menu boards) must have clearly listed calorie information next to the food or beverage item.  For self-service food locations, like buffets, it is acceptable to have the calorie information shown on signs near the food.  While displaying calorie information is not required for condiments, specials, custom items, or seasonal items, it is deemed best practice for food service businesses to do so.

With respect to vending machines, calorie labeling requirement are mandated for operators with 20 or more vending machines.  The calorie information must be displayed next to the item, or where not practical (e.g., on “bulk” vending), on a sign or placard that is conspicuous.  All labeling must be visible before the customer purchases the item.

Bottom Line

Food service and vending businesses are obligated to comply with the new calorie labeling requirements.  Even if your business does not meet the threshold of 20 or more locations/vending machines, it is best practice to provide the calorie information if reasonably available.  The FDA has additional information and guidance about how to label food items.  While the FDA has expressed a reluctance to fine or criminally sanction minor or innocent violations of this new regulation, the FDA retains authority to enact stiff consequences for businesses who violate the new regulations.

Jon L. Farnsworth is a shareholder at Felhaber Larson.  He is an outside general counsel to privately held businesses, including businesses in the food industry.  He can be reached at jfarnsworth@felhaber.com and 612-373-8455.