How the Common Sense Nutrition Disclosure Act of 2015 Could Affect Covered Establishments including Grocery Stores and Convenience Stores
On October 29th, a bill was introduced to the Senate that could affect the way that covered establishments label calories for any restaurant-type foods that they offer. The proposed bill does not exempt specific foodservice operators from menu labeling requirements but it does provide additional flexibility. This bill has since been advanced by a House sub-committee and has moved onto the full committee for further consideration. Claire Willis, Director of Culinary Nutritionists of MenuTrinfo, LLC answers a few questions about the Common Sense Nutrition Disclosure Act of 2015.
What is one of the largest implications of this bill?
Should this legislation pass, menu items that are only served at a few locations within a large chain would not be considered a standard menu item, and therefore not require calorie labels. This means that any local favorites that are only served at a handful of locations are not subject to the same set of guidelines as the core menu items. While it may lighten the load for restaurants, it could become confusing for guests who will likely request that missing information anyway.
Are there any proposed changes that could impact enforcement of the menu labeling requirements?
The bill allows 90 days to make corrections to menu labeling requirements before penalties are enforced to prevent legal action against covered establishments. It also removes the certifications requirement from the current regulations. Stores would not need to present an inspector with any proof of their reasonable basis when requested. This could lead to inaccurate values and a lack of accountability at the store level. Based on our experience with our clients, menu labeling has been positive in that they can standardize their menus, supply chain and cooking procedures in order to fill out the certifications.
What about timeline implications?
This bill could drastically change the menu labeling timeline. Once enacted, covered establishments would have two years from that date to have their menus and menu boards be compliant. While this gives foodservice operators more time to prepare their materials, it’s only delaying the inevitable. Preparing for the upcoming guidelines can be a lengthy process so it’s best to prepare early and be ready for the guidelines rather than scrambling last minute to become compliant. This is really an area that MenuTrinfo has a ton of expertise in and we’re standing by to help covered establishments ramp up for the new requirements.
This bill seems to focus on grocery stores and convenience stores. What other establishments would be impacted?
In this rule, an allowance is made for covered establishments that offer multi-serving dishes. In the current regulations, there are only two options: either labeling the discrete serving unit if the menu item comes pre-divided into units for the guest, or by the entire portion. This bill would allow for covered establishments to determine their own serving size and label the calories for that specific allotment. While some establishments may take advantage of this new flexibility, it may allow places like pizzerias that don’t use the traditional triangle cut, restaurants that offer catering menus, and grocery stores that sell party platters to provide better information to their guests.
Because the fate of this bill is still yet to be determined, what should grocery and convenience stores do to be compliant with the law?
While the FDA works out their final plans for menu labeling, double check any menu labeling format that may be unclear or misleading for the consumer. It’s important to look at all written materials in the eyes of a guest. Is it possible to place an order using that writing? If so, does the guest have full calorie information when he or she makes a decision?
It’s also important to ensure that all nutritionals are accurate and up-to-date. Regardless of what happens with this proposed bill, dependable nutrition information will still be a requirement. Seeking out third party assistance like MenuTrinfo during this step can help ease the burden of the guidelines and ensure that you can be confident with the numbers on your menus and menu boards.
Any other advice for grocery stores and convenience stores?
Don’t look for shortcuts, when it comes to the law. Consumers are demanding more and more transparency in their food, and altering the guidelines with this bill won’t change that. With our clients, we have found that guests really embrace having nutrition information available regardless of what the values are. We have also worked with clients to help provide some lower-calorie options to cater to the more health-conscious diners. You would be surprised how a few small recipe changes can make a big nutritional impact.
What resources are available to help navigate both the mandated menu labeling requirements and the proposed bill?
There is a lot to keep track of when it comes to menu labeling guidelines. Staying on top of the latest news from the FDA, is a great start but the language can be daunting. For those that don’t know where to being, MenuTrinfo can be a valuable asset. We’ve helped our clients navigate the guidelines and find a menu labeling solution that is compliant while still maintaining their brand integrity. You don’t have to go it alone, using a third party who has your back when it comes to menu labeling can help ease the headache of complying with the regulations.
MenuTrinfo, LLC® is the nation’s premiere nutrition solution for menu labeling, menu development and analysis, as well as food allergy and gluten-free training. AllerTrain™ by MenuTrinfo is the leading food allergy and gluten-free training program that is designed to educate a variety of food handlers and non-food handlers. AllerTrain and AllerTrain Lite are the only ANSI (American National Standards Institute) food allergy specific training courses available today.
At MenuTrinfo, we are passionately committed to helping foodservice operators protect the lives and health of their customers by providing safe products and procedures that meet a wide range of dietary restrictions and guidelines. Our dedicated nutrition staff offer the only full-service solution for nutritional labeling that is insured and based on an FDA-approved process. MenuTrinfo clients cover the spectrum of foodservice, from large universities to restaurants and catering operations. For more information, go to www.MenuTrinfo.com or call 970-295-4370.