Over the past two years small business owners spent considerable time implementing procedures to comply with the health care requirements under the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. Just when these business owners thought they could turn their attention back to doing what they do best, running their business, regulators issue new compliance requirements, this time targeting the food and beverage industry.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently issued a final rule on food labeling, as required under the Affordable Care Act, which provides for nutrition labeling of “standard” menu items for chain restaurants with 20 or more locations and “similar retail food establishments.” If you are a restaurant owner the menu labeling rule will most certainly impact on your bottom line. The rule is expected to cost the food industry some $315 million to implement and about $44 million per year after that, according to the FDA’s original cost-benefit analysis. In addition to restaurants, the rule applies to food facilities in entertainment venues, such as movie theaters and amusement parks, take-out food establishments, bakeries, convenience stores, grocery stores and supermarkets.
So what’s required? Calories must be displayed clearly and conspicuously on menus and menu boards next to the name or price of the item. Menus and menu boards must also display “2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice, but calorie needs vary.” Businesses must provide, upon consumer request, written nutritional information for each menu item. The rule applies to “standard menu items”, including food on display and self-service food, but not daily specials, temporary menu items and condiments for general use typically available on a counter or table. It is important to note that certain alcoholic beverages listed on menus or menu boards are also included under the rule.
While the cost of compliance will vary for each establishment, non-compliance is criminal. Criminal you say? How? Well, businesses that fail to comply, or don’t get it right, will have affected menu items deemed “misbranded” which is a misdemeanor under the Food Drug and Cosmetic Act. The FDA retains the discretion to hold those with supervisory responsibility, including those who are “responsible individuals” who certify the menu labeling, criminally liable for a misbranding violation.
While the menu labeling rule will most certainly face legal challenges, it’s important for businesses to start planning for the implementation as rule goes into effect on December 1, 2015.
If you have questions about menu labeling compliance, please contact our attorneys at Morsel Law.