Food Safety News - Obamacare menu labeling requirements start May 5

Since the U.S. House could not find any route to repeal it, Obamacare will likely stand long enough to bring menu labeling into reality on May 5.

Menu labeling regulations as written by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration were slipped into the Affordable Care Act seven years ago as one of the mammoth law’s many mandates. It means that restaurants with 20 or more locations must post in-store menu boards for every food item and combination served.

The menu labeling rule implements Section 4205 of the Affordable Care Act.

The Affordable Care Act requires nutrition labeling for standard menu items sold from certain restaurants and similar retail food establishments, as well as calorie labeling for food sold from certain vending machines. Some details:

  • Restaurant menu labeling – Applies to restaurants and similar retail food establishments if they are part of a chain of 20 or more locations, doing business under the same name, offering for sale substantially the same menu items and offering for sale restaurant-type foods.
  • Vending machine labeling – Requires operators who own or operate 20 or more vending machines to disclose calorie information for food sold from vending machines, subject to certain exemptions.

Maybe because restaurant owners were expecting menu labeling to go away with the wholesale repeal of Obamacare last week, most are not yet ready to meet the new rules as Section 4205 did not go away.

Sterling, VA-based EnterWorks, a data and product management company that’s active in the restaurant and prepared food industries, stresses urgency of ACA content compliance to prevent FDA fines. The menu rules took effect Dec. 1, 2016, but compliance was set forward to May 5.

“Regional and national chain restaurants will be in a catch-up mode to produce compliant, lab-validated content that matches the ingredients of localized menu items for owned and franchised locations,” said EnterWorks CEO Rick Chavie. “Unlike branded packaged food products which can be controlled at the factory, ingredients included in prepared food recipes may be varied to meet regionalized tastes. A central food content network that incorporates local preferences can offer the menu authenticity that restaurants need while meeting FDA rules.

“Restaurants are quickly adopting omnichannel strategies including tablet side tablets, kiosks for ordering and digital signage for menus,” Chavie added. “Keeping physical and digital information accurate and timely as new items are added to menus is a perfect use case for an omnichannel product content platform. For restaurant franchisors lacking such a product information management system, delivery of timely, accurate and FDA-compliant menus and labeling will be an ongoing problem.”

National menu labeling standards are favored by restaurant chains as preferable to a checkerboard of state and local requirements.