Pre-pandemic, FDA regulations required chain restaurants and similar retail food establishments with 20 or more locations to provide nutrition information, including calorie declarations, for standard menu items on menu boards.
But due to the COVID-19 outbreak, restaurants and food manufacturers have large quantities of food on hand that is not labeled for retail sale and cannot be sold in restaurants in the manner initially intended. As a result, the FDA has issued temporary policies on nutrition labeling that will make it easier for restaurants and food manufacturers to sell food that was not originally intended for retail sale.
The guidance document provides temporary flexibility to chain restaurants and similar retail food establishments currently required to provide nutrition information. The policy change, which will remain in effect only for the duration of the public health emergency, was brought about by recent changes to restaurant operations nationwide.
Many restaurants are temporarily changing business practices as a result of the pandemic. For example, some dine-in operations are switching to takeout only, which may require changes in online ordering portals and printed menus. Because calorie information is required to be declared for standard menu items when a consumer makes a selection, restaurants may have difficulty providing this information during a rapid transition to a takeout business practice.
Additionally, some of these restaurants may be experiencing temporary disruptions in the food supply chain, which may lead to different menus or substitutions that could affect the accuracy of the nutrition information. To provide flexibility to these chains covered by menu labeling requirements, the FDA will not object if restaurants do not meet menu labeling requirements during this public health emergency.
While the FDA’s guidance documents are not legally enforcible, they describe the agency’s current thinking on a topic and should be viewed only as recommendations. Whether restaurants choose to adhere to these new guidelines remains to be seen.