CBORD Explains: “The Final Rule” for Food Labeling

The FDA's Menu Labeling Final Rule: Food Labeling, Nutrition Labeling of Standard Menu Items in Restaurants and Similar Food, or the "Final Rule," calls for restaurants to have the amount of calories in menu options available for customers. Restaurants can print that information on a menu or display it on a menu board.

There are pretty clear guidelines as to whom this regulation for who this pertains. This affects anyone serving food—a restaurant chain typically—that has more than 20 locations under the same name, serving the same menu. These covered entities must be in compliance by December 2016.

More than Calories

Only the calories have to be listed per menu item, but the restaurants must make more extensive nutritional information available upon customer request. The extensive nutritional information covers things like protein, fat, saturated fat, and sugar values—very similar to the values listed on common nutrition labels.

Consumer Expectations Likely to Change

While only the covered entities must comply, there are so many restaurants where consumers will be seeing this information that it will become a normal customer expectation. So even though the regulation only immediately affects the chain restaurants, we will also see the food service industry respond to this forecasted consumer expectation by providing nutritional information this year.

Impact on Higher Education

The rule does not directly impact a college or university dining operation, but it would if they had, for example, a Subway® on campus. It all goes back to that chain of 20 or more locations rule; thus most venues on a college or university campus that are run by the school would not fall into that category.

Will this rule ever make its way to higher education? It could happen. When you look at allergy requirements, a university was sued for not providing adequate information and food choices to a captive audience. The precedent for that was the Americans with Disabilities Act which heavily played into the ruling. Other universities realized they would be liable and they started making allergy information and diverse food choices a priority. While that situation is somewhat similar, it is more likely that colleges will be driven by customer or student demand for calorie labeling. Students will see it in restaurants, and they are going to want it on campus. That seems more likely than a regulation.

A lot of campuses are progressive and have proactively been providing students the nutritional information of menu items for years. What we are seeing now is diverse media being used to provide this information—like printed materials, online sources, menu boards, and apps. But even if this hasn't been a priority for some campuses, most already have the information and it would be an easy process to configure that information for publishing.