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U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

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

New Menu and Vending Machines Labeling Requirements Main Page
 


The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued two proposed regulations that would ensure calorie labeling on menus and menu boards in chain restaurants, retail food establishments, and vending machines. FDA invited members of the public to submit their comments on the proposed regulations by visiting www.regulations.gov.

The proposed rules would apply to restaurants and similar retail food establishments with 20 or more locations, and vending machine operators with 20 or more machines. Consumers would see calories listed in 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. Movie theaters, airplanes, bowling alleys and other establishments whose primary purpose is not to sell food would not be subject to these proposed regulations. The proposal invites the public to comment on whether these or additional types of food establishments should or should not be covered by the new rules. Vending machine operators who own or operate 20 or more vending machines would be required to post calorie information for food sold in those vending machines unless certain nutrition information is visible on individual packages of food inside the machine.

FDA is accepting comments on both proposed rules.
 

Questions:


Why is FDA proposing to require nutrition labeling in restaurants and similar retail food establishments?
Menu labeling will ensure consumers have more nutritional information when they make food choices. The new nutrition labeling is called for by the Affordable Care Act, as part of its effort to promote transparency and give consumers additional information.

Why will this information be useful for consumers?
Americans now consume about one-third of their total calories on foods prepared outside the home. While consumers can find calorie and other nutrition information on most packaged foods that they buy in stores, this labeling is not generally available in restaurants and similar retail food establishments or visible on food inside vending machines. Providing calorie and other nutrition information in restaurants, similar retail food establishments, and vending machines will give consumers more information when they make their food choices.

Will I see the new labeling everywhere I eat out or buy takeout food?
No. The proposed rules apply to restaurants and similar retail food establishments that are: (1) part of a chain with 20 or more locations, (2) doing business under the same name, and (3) offering for sale substantially the same menu items in their different locations. If a restaurant or similar retail food establishment does not meet these criteria (for example, is part of a chain with fewer than 20 locations), it can voluntarily register and be covered under the federal requirements. Under this proposed regulation, movie theaters, airplanes, bowling alleys and other establishments whose primary purpose is not to sell food would not be subject to these proposed regulations.

Will calorie information be posted for food sold in vending machines?
Vending machine operators that own or operate 20 or more machines would be required to post calorie information for food sold in vending machines unless nutrition information for the food is visible while inside the machine. 

When will I see the new nutrition labeling?
Some establishments are already posting nutrition information, but the nutrition labeling requirements won’t be finalized until FDA completes the rulemaking process—that means reviewing comments that the public submits in response to the proposed rules and issuing final regulations. FDA is hoping to issue the final rules by the end of this year and is proposing that the final rules become effective six months from the date of publication for covered restaurants and similar retail food establishments and one year from the date of publication for covered vending machines, although input on these effective dates is welcome.

Where does the information have to be posted?
Calories would be required on menus and menu boards, including drive-through menu boards, in covered restaurants and similar retail food establishments; and on signs next to foods on display. The nutrition labeling must be clear and prominently posted. For vending machines, FDA is proposing that calories be declared in close proximity to the food.

Do the new nutrition labeling requirements affect the nutrition information now on packaged food?
No, the new menu labeling requirements do not affect the Nutrition Facts labeling that is required on most packaged foods. Nutrition information would be available to consumers for foods that they eat at home as well as foods they eat in chain restaurants and similar retail establishments and from certain vending machines.

How will I know if the number of calories posted on a menu or menu board for a menu item I choose is high or low?
In addition to posting calorie information, covered restaurants and similar retail establishments would be required to post on menus and menu boards a short statement about daily caloric intake that helps consumers understand the calorie information within the context of a total daily diet. FDA is proposing that 2,000 calories be used as a reference point for this statement—the same calorie amount used on the Nutrition Facts panel that appears on packaged foods. FDA is also proposing that this statement include a sentence informing consumers that individual calorie needs vary.

Why are just calories required to be posted? Why not other nutrients?
Additional nutrition information would be available on request. Specifically, in covered restaurants and similar retail food establishments, consumers could get in written form and on request: total calories, calories from fat, total fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, trans fat, sodium, total carbohydrates, sugars, dietary fiber and protein.

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.

How will restaurants and similar retail food establishments provide nutrition labeling for combination meals, such as a meal that includes a choice of sandwich, side item and beverage?
FDA is proposing the use of calorie ranges for standard menu items that come in different flavors, varieties, or combinations but are listed as a single menu item, such as combination meals or ice cream that comes in different flavors.

Can states have nutrition labeling requirements for food sold in restaurants, similar retail establishments, or vending machines that differ from federal requirements?
State and local governments cannot have nutrition labeling requirements that are different from the federal requirements for restaurants, similar retail food establishments, and vending machines that are covered under the proposed rules. The statute allows restaurants, similar retail food establishments, and vending machine operators not subject to the federal requirements (for example, those with fewer than 20 locations or machines) to voluntarily register to be covered by the federal requirements. Establishments not covered under the new law or its implementing regulations would remain subject to existing State and local laws.