5 tips to help restaurateurs master menu labeling before May 7 deadline
It's that magical time of year once again. The trees are starting to bud, days are getting longer, sandals come out of the closet, and the foodservice industry gets ready for the menu-labeling deadline. However, unlike the warm weather and blooming plants, menu labeling is here to stay.
It's no secret that the industry has been burned on menu labeling before. Just last year, the enforcement date was changed just hours away from going into effect. The FDA is backing the regulations 100 percent this year, however, so covered establishments better get ready. We have compiled our top compliance tips here to ensure you take full advantage of these few short weeks before the May 7th enforcement deadline.
1. Get your rounding right. Did you know that each nutrient has different rounding rules and different insignificant values? And did you know that to a trained eye, it's really obvious when this isn't done correctly? Rounding is such an easy thing to watch for, it wouldn't be surprising if that's what inspectors hone in on. This guide can be used to help you or, better yet, an accredited third-party consultant can give you your values already rounded to perfection.
2. Know your reasonable basis. The FDA has not defined an allowable variance regarding the accuracy of posted nutritional values. Rather, they are requiring a "reasonable basis" behind a covered establishment's numbers. You need to know how your analysis was done, and why your numbers are what they are. While you don't need every detail of the analysis on hand, if the FDA requests specifics as to how your numbers were derived you'll be required to give them a detailed explanation.
3. Don't forget the importance of training. While menu labeling has been a part of the industry for more than eight years, store-level staff might not have experience with it yet. The importance of following printed recipes and order guides needs to be communicated to the team members at the front line serving guests. They should also be prepped with answers to frequently asked questions, such as, "Where is your additional nutrition information?" Or, "What does this range of numbers mean?"
4. Documentation is key. We've already covered that written recipes are critical. However, that's not the only thing that should be well documented. Let's say you source three hamburger buns depending on the market but have a plan to handle the nutritional differences in your posted information. That should be documented. Maybe you have an agreement in place with your supplier as to how they'll handle any sudden product shortages, so your nutrition information isn't impacted. That should be documented. Anything that helps further prove due diligence in presenting accurate nutrition information to the public should be in writing and securely stored.
5. Know this is just the beginning. If you give a mouse a cookie, he's going to want a glass of milk. If you give a consumer nutrition information, they're going to want an allergen chart. Today's diners are demanding more and more transparency from the foodservice establishments that serve them. They want to know what's in their food, and how they can find a meal that meets their special dietary needs. Assuming it was done correctly, by the time a covered establishment has put in the effort to analyze its menu items, it's not much more work to complete an allergen review as well. As long as it's accurate and reliable, it's the next logical piece of information to present to guests.
Spring fever may just be starting to set in, but there's no time to waste in getting compliant with the menu labeling regulations. We're just a few short weeks away from the May 7th deadline, and this time (I think finally) it's here to stay.
Betsy Craig Betsy Craig brings 20 years of food service industry experience to MenuTrinfo, LLC a menu nutritional labeling Company. Her commitment to the betterment of the food industry and her desire to affect the dining public are the driving forces behind her new company Kitchens with Confidence, LLC. www