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Questions and Answers on the Menu and Vending Machines Nutrition Labeling Requirements

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This page provides questions and answers on the menu and vending machines labeling requirements.

For more information see, Menu and Vending Machines Labeling Requirements Main Page.


Consumer Questions & Answers

C1. Where will I see calorie labeling?

Calorie and other nutrition labeling will be required for standard menu items offered for sale in a restaurant or similar retail food establishment that is part of a chain with 20 or more locations, doing business under the same name, and offering for sale substantially the same menu items. A restaurant or similar retail food establishment is generally defined as a retail establishment that offers for sale “restaurant type food,” which is generally food that is usually eaten on the premises, while walking away, or soon after arriving at another location. Specific examples of restaurant-type foods covered, when offered by a chain with 20 or more locations, include:

  • Meals from sit-down restaurants
  • Foods purchased at drive-through windows
  • Take-out food, such as pizza 
  • Foods, such as made-to-order sandwiches, ordered from a menu or menu board at a grocery store or delicatessen
  • Foods you serve yourself from a salad or hot food bar at a restaurant or grocery store
  • A muffin at a bakery or coffee shop
  • Popcorn purchased at a movie theater or amusement park
  • A scoop of ice cream, milk shake or sundae from an ice cream store
    Foods in covered vending machines also will have to carry calorie labeling that can be viewed before purchase, subject to certain exceptions.

C2. Will I see the new labeling soon?

Some establishments are already voluntarily posting nutrition information, but restaurants and similar retail food establishments covered by the menu labeling final rule will have one year after the menu labeling final rule publishes December 1, 2014 to comply with the rule’s requirements, and covered vending machine operators will have two years after the vending machine labeling final rule publishes on December 1, 2014 to comply.

It’s important to remember that only restaurants and similar retail food establishments that are part of a chain with 20 or more locations, doing business under the same name, and offering for sale substantially the same menu items are covered by the menu labeling final rule. Restaurants and similar retail food establishments that are not covered by the rule, such as a restaurant that is part of a chain with fewer than 20 locations, can voluntarily register to be subject to the final rule’s requirements.

Only vending machine operators who own or operate 20 or more vending machines have to post calories to comply with the vending machine labeling final rule, and only for certain foods . The vending machine final rule contains certain requirements related to size of type, color, and contrast of the calorie declarations to ensure visibility at the point of purchase. Vending machine operators that are not covered by the rule, such as a vending machine operator that owns or operates fewer than 20 vending machines, can voluntarily register to be subject to the final rule’s requirements.

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C3. Will I easily find the posted information about calories?

Yes. Calories must be clear and prominent on menus and menu boards and on signs next to self-service foods and foods on display. For calorie declarations on menus and menu boards, the size of the calorie declaration must be no smaller than the size of the name or the price of the menu item it refers to, whichever is smaller. In general such calorie declarations must be in the same color, or a similar color as that used for the name of the associated menu item. The menu labeling rule also provides specific type size, color, and contrast requirements for calorie declarations on signs next to self-service foods and foods on display.

For covered vending machines, the calories must be posted on a sign (e.g., small placard, sticker, poster) close to the article of food or selection button, subject to certain exceptions. The vending machine rule contains certain requirements related to size of type, color, and contrast of the calorie declarations to ensure visibility at the point of purchase.

C4. Are food trucks covered under the menu labeling rule?

Food trucks are not covered by the menu labeling requirements.

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C5. I tend to order combination meals, such as a meal that includes a choice of sandwich, side item and beverage. Will this also be covered under the menu labeling rule?

Yes. Covered establishments must declare calories for combination meals, which come with more than one food item, that are standard menu items. In general, the calorie declaration includes the total calories for all food items that make up the combination meal, and, the way the calories must be displayed depends on how many choices are listed on the menu or menu board for menu items in the combination meal. When the menu or menu board lists three or more choices for menu items in a combination meal (e.g., a sandwich with chips, a side salad, or fruit), the calories must be declared as a range, such as 450-700 calories. When the menu or menu board lists two choices for menu items in a combination meal (e.g., a sandwich with chips or a side salad), the calories must be declared as a slash, such as 350/450 calories.

C6. What nutritional information other than calories will be available?

A statement is required on menus and menu boards declaring “additional nutrition information available upon request." The following written nutrition information is required to be available to consumers upon their request: total calories, calories from fat, total fat, saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, sodium, total carbohydrates, fiber, sugars, and protein. The statement regarding the availability of the additional written nutrition information must be posted prominently and in a clear and conspicuous manner. The written nutrition information can be provided on posters, tray liners, signs, counter cards, handouts, booklets and computers or kiosks. Additional nutrition information is not required for foods sold in vending machines.

Also, in addition to listing calories, covered restaurants and similar retail food establishments will be required to post on menus and menu boards a short statement about daily caloric intake – “2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice, but calorie needs vary.” This statement is meant to enable consumers to understand the calorie information provided on menus and menu boards within the context of a total daily diet.

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C7. How will the nutrition content of food served in restaurants or similar retail food establishments be determined?

An establishment covered by the menu labeling rule must have a reasonable basis for its nutrient content declarations. Nutrient content declarations can be based on information obtained from nutrient databases, cookbooks, laboratory analyses, the Nutrition Facts label, and other reasonable means. In addition, a covered establishment must take reasonable steps to ensure that the method of preparation and amount of a standard menu item adheres to the factors on which nutrient values were determined.

C8. Are there additional options for children’s menus under the menu labeling final rule?

A separate succinct statement may be used on children’s menus as a substitute for or in addition to the general succinct statement (“2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice, but calorie needs vary”) designed to enable consumers to understand, in the context of a total daily diet, the significance of the calorie information provided on such menus. The rule allows the use of the following to be used on menus and menu boards targeted to children:

  • "1,200 to 1,400 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice for children ages 4 to 8 years, but calorie needs vary."
  • "1,200 to 1,400 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice for children ages 4 to 8 years and 1,400 to 2,000 calories a day for children 9 to 13 years, but calorie needs vary."

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C9. If I order an alcoholic beverage, will the calories be listed?

Yes, if the alcoholic beverage is a standard menu item that is listed on a menu or a menu board. The majority of comments supported covering alcohol due to impacts on public health. In some instances, information may be presented in ranges for beer and wine rather than for each specific offering.

C10. Can restaurants, similar retail food establishments, and vending machine operators not covered under the requirements voluntarily choose to be covered?

Yes. Restaurants, similar retail food establishments, and vending machine operators not covered under the requirements (for example, those with fewer than 20 locations or machines) can voluntarily register to be covered by the new requirements.

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Industry Questions & Answers

I1. How do I know if my business is covered by the final rule?

To be covered by the final rule, an establishment must meet certain criteria. First, the establishment must be a restaurant or similar retail food establishment, as defined in the rule. Next, the establishment must: (1) be part of a chain of 20 or more locations, (2) doing business under the same name, and (3) offering for sale substantially the same menu items.

Establishments such as restaurants that are quick service and/or sit-down, food take-out facilities, pizza delivery establishments, food facilities in entertainment venues (e.g., movie theaters, bowling alleys), cafeterias, coffee shops, superstores, grocery and convenience stores, are covered if they meet the criteria listed above.
School cafeterias serving foods through USDA school lunch and breakfast programs are not covered by the menu labeling final rule. Transportation vehicles, such as food trucks, planes and trains, are also not covered. Food facilities located in universities and colleges are covered if they meet the criteria listed above.

I2. What exactly will be required by my food establishment?

Covered restaurants and similar retail food establishments are now required: (1) to disclose calorie information on menus and menu boards for standard menu items; (2) post a succinct statement (see below) concerning suggested daily caloric intake on menus and menu boards; and (3) post on menus and menu boards a statement that written nutrition information is available upon request. The final rule requires that the following written nutrition information for standard menu items be provided to consumers upon request: total calories, calories from fat, total fat, saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, sodium, total carbohydrates, fiber, sugars, and protein.

In addition, calorie information must be declared on signs adjacent to foods on display and self-serve foods that are standard menu items.

The FDA is requiring a succinct statement that says, “2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice, but calorie needs vary” to be included on menus and menu boards. An optional separate statement can be used on children’s menus and menu boards as a substitute for or in addition to the succinct statement.

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I3. How is restaurant-type food defined?

“Restaurant-type food” is generally defined as food usually eaten on the premises, while walking away, or soon after arriving at another location and either served in the establishment or processed and prepared primarily in the establishment. Examples include: meals from sit-down restaurants; foods purchased at drive-through windows; take-out food; food ordered from a menu/menu board at a grocery store; foods you serve yourself from a salad or hot food bar at a restaurant or grocery store; a muffin at a bakery or coffee shop; popcorn purchased at a movie theater or amusement park; and a scoop of ice cream, milk shake or sundae from an ice-cream store. Establishments serving restaurant-type food must also meet the other criteria to be covered: (1) be part of a chain of 20 or more locations, (2) doing business under the same name, and (3) offering for sale substantially the same menu items.

Foods that would generally not be covered under the definition of “restaurant-type” food include certain items purchased in a grocery store or other similar retail food establishment that are eaten over several occasions or stored for later use (e.g., a whole cake, a loaf of bread, bags/boxes of rolls), foods that are typically intended for more than one person to eat or require additional preparation before consuming (e.g., pounds of deli meats and cheeses, large-size deli salads), and certain foods bought from bulk bin cases in grocery stores (e.g., nuts, dried fruits, olives from bulk bins).

I4. Will I have to determine and provide the nutrition content of the food I am serving? How will I do that?

Yes. A covered establishment must have a reasonable basis for its nutrient content declarations and take reasonable steps to ensure that the method of preparation and amount of a standard menu item adheres to the factors on which nutrient values were determined. Nutrient values can be determined by using nutrient databases, cookbooks, laboratory analyses, the Nutrition Facts Label on packaged foods, and other reasonable means.

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I5. Will I have to implement the new nutrition labeling soon?

Restaurants and similar retail food establishments will have one year from the date of publication of the menu labeling final rule to comply with the requirements. Establishments covered by the rule that are already posting nutrition information will have to be sure their labeling complies with the new requirements.

I6. Will I have to substantiate the nutrient values I use for my nutrition labeling?

Upon request from the FDA, covered establishments must provide information to FDA substantiating the nutrient values, including the method and data used to derive such values. In addition to other information needed depending on the basis used to determine nutrient values, a signed/dated statement is generally needed (1) to certify that the information contained in the nutrient analysis is accurate and complete and (2) that the covered establishment has taken reasonable steps to ensure the method of preparation and the amount of the standard menu item offered for sale adhere to the factors on which its nutrient values were determined.

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I7. How are menus and menu boards defined?

“Menus” and “menu boards” are defined as the primary writing of the covered establishment from which a customer makes an order selection. These include, but are not limited to, breakfast, lunch, and dinner menus; dessert menus; beverage menus; children’s menus; other specialty menus; electronic menus; and online menus.

I8. What is the general format for declaring calories and posting the succinct statement on menus and menu boards?

The number of calories contained in each standard menu item listed on the menu or menu board must be listed: (1) next to the name or the price of the associated standard menu item; (2) in a type size no smaller than that of the name or the price of the associated standard menu item, whichever is smaller; (3) in the same color, or a color at least as conspicuous as that used for the name of the associated standard menu item; and (4) with the same contrasting background or a background at least as contrasting as that used for the name of the associated standard menu item.

The succinct statement must be posted: (1) prominently and in a clear and conspicuous manner; (2) in a type size no smaller than that of any calorie declaration appearing on the same menu or menu board; (3) in the same color or in a color at least as conspicuous as that used for the calorie declarations; and (4) with the same contrasting background or a background at least as contrasting as that used for the calorie declarations.

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I9. Will I have to list calories for alcoholic beverages being served at my bar and restaurant?

Yes, if the alcoholic beverage is a standard menu item that is listed on a menu or menu board. The majority of comments supported having alcohol beverages covered under the final rule due to impacts on public health. In some instances, the rule provides flexibility for beer and wine and allows for calorie ranges to be rather than individual calorie counts for each offering.

I10. Can restaurants or similar retail food establishments not covered under the requirements voluntarily choose to be covered?

Yes. Restaurants and similar retail food establishments that are not covered under the requirements (for example, those with fewer than 20 locations) can voluntarily register with FDA to comply with the new requirements.

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I11. Instead of following these federal requirements for menu labeling, can I choose to follow my state’s nutrition labeling requirements for food sold in my restaurants or similar retail establishments?

The law specifies that State or local governments cannot have nutrition labeling requirements for foods sold in establishments covered by the final rule, unless such requirements are identical to the federal requirements.

Under the rule, consumers will have consistent nutrition information available to them whenever they eat out in covered establishments. In addition, companies that are covered by the requirements won’t have to display different nutrition labeling depending on the geographical location.

Restaurants and similar retail food establishments that are not covered under the federal requirements would remain subject to applicable State or local nutrition labeling requirements, unless they choose to voluntarily register with FDA to comply with the federal nutrition labeling requirements. 

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Vending Machine Operator Questions & Answers 

V1. How will I be able to know if my business is covered by the final rule?

The requirement for calorie labeling for foods sold in vending machines applies to a person who is engaged in the business of owning or operating 20 or more vending machines. Additionally, vending machine operators who are not subject to the calorie labeling requirement may voluntarily register with FDA to be covered by the rule.

V2. What types of vending machines are covered?

The rule defines “vending machine” to mean “a self-service machine that, upon insertion of a coin, paper currency, token, card, or key, or by optional manual operation, dispenses servings of food in bulk or in packages, or prepared by the machine, without the necessity of replenishing the machine between each vending operation.”

In general, the final rule’s definition of “vending machine” could encompass—but not be limited to—those vending machines that sell soft drinks, packaged snacks, hot-and-cold cup beverages, refrigerated prepared food (such as those sold from turnstile vending machines), and handfuls of nuts or candies (such as those sold from bulk vending machines). Game machines are not covered, even if they sometimes dispense candy or other edible items as part of the game.

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V3. Where does the calorie information have to be posted?

If the article of food sold from the vending machine permits the consumer to examine the Nutrition Facts label before purchase, or otherwise provides visible nutrition information at the point of purchase (e.g., through front-of-pack calorie labeling), as specified in the final rule, then no further calorie information is required by the final rule for such food.

For other articles of food sold from vending machines that do not meet the criteria listed above, the covered vending machine operator must provide calorie declarations for such foods. In general, the calorie declarations can be placed on a sign (which can be a sticker) close to the article of food or selection button (i.e., in, on, or adjacent to the vending machine). The sign does not necessarily need to be attached to the vending machine as long as the calorie declaration is visible at the same time as the food, its name, price, selection button, or selection number is visible. The sign must provide calorie declarations for articles of food that are sold from that particular vending machine. The final rule also permits electronic or digital displays of the calorie information.

V4. What is the general format for the calorie declarations?

Calorie declarations for covered vending machine food must be clear, conspicuous and prominently placed.

When the calorie declaration is in or on the vending machine, it must be: 

In a type size no smaller than the name of the food on the machine (not the food label), selection number, or price of the food as displayed on the vending machine, whichever is smallest;

  • Displayed with the same prominence, meaning the same color, or a color at least as conspicuous, as the color of the name or price of the food or selection number; and
  •  Set against the same contrasting background, or a background at least as contrasting as the background used for the item it is in close proximity to, i.e., name, selection number, or price of the food item as displayed on the machine.

When the calorie declaration is on a sign adjacent to the vending machine, the calorie declaration must be (1) in a type size large enough to render it likely to be read and understood by the consumer under customary conditions of purchase and use, and (2) in a type that is all black or one color on a white or other neutral background that contrasts with the type color.

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V5. How will I determine the calorie content for the foods in my vending machines?

Covered vending machine operators may rely on a number of ways to determine the calorie content for foods sold in their vending machines, including the food package’s Nutrition Facts Label, the manufacturer or supplier of the food, nutrient databases, cookbooks, or laboratory analyses.

V6. How long will I have to implement the new calorie labeling requirement?

Covered vending machine operators must comply with the rule no later than two years after the date of the rule’s publication. FDA extended the effective date from one year in the proposed rule.

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V7. How will the final rule be enforced?

Covered vending machine operators must disclose their contact information on the vending machines, and FDA will use such information to contact operators for enforcement purposes. Failure to comply with the rule will render covered vending machine food misbranded under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act.

We anticipate that vending machine operators are likely to generate and maintain a record of the information regarding how they determined the calorie content for covered vending machine foods. The FDA encourages them to be prepared to share the record of information with the agency upon request during an inspection if FDA needs to determine whether the calorie declarations posted by a vending machine operator under the final rule are truthful and not misleading. 

V8. Can vending machine operators not covered under the requirements voluntarily choose to be covered?

Yes. Vending machine operators not covered under the requirements (for example, those with fewer than 20 machines) can voluntarily register to comply with the new requirements. 

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Page Last Updated: 11/26/2014
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