Washington, DC - As someone who enjoys eating out with my family and picking up the occasional take-out meal, I – like many Americans – want to know what’s in the food I eat. As FDA Commissioner, I also know that more people are eating meals away from home, and our diets are increasingly comprised of foods we get from restaurants or take-out meals. FDA is committed to leveraging nutrition to enhance health and reduce disease, and the agency soon will be announcing a broader policy effort in this area.
One important step is ensuring consumers have access to reliable and actionable information about the foods they eat so that they can make more informed choices about their diets and health for themselves and their families.
But information about the foods we get in restaurants and in take-out meals isn’t consistently available. Often we’re left without good insight into how many calories we’re consuming away from our homes, or what type of nutrition we may receive. At a time when more than a third of U.S. adults are obese and more people are trying to make healthier lifestyle decisions, we know making informed choices about our diets has the potential to save and improve lives. For instance, it can help to reduce the risk of many obesity-related conditions, such as heart disease, stroke, diabetes and certain types of cancer. This is why we’re seizing the opportunity to empower Americans to more carefully consider their food choices by providing access to uniform and consistent calorie and nutrition information for foods on display, menus and menu boards.
FDA takes seriously the authority Congress granted to us in overseeing federal food labeling standards, including our mandate to make calorie information available on menus. From the outset, the agency recognized the enormity of our responsibility, not only to implement this law in a way that meets the needs of American consumers, but doing so while being pragmatic and not overly burdensome to restaurants and similar retail food establishments. In considering how and what information to make available, we have taken into account the significant variation in the ways Americans purchase foods – ranging from traditional restaurant menus to the growth in grab-and-go foods at grocery and convenience stores. Importantly, our approach also makes sure that these provisions can be efficiently implemented by restaurants and similar retail food establishments and sustained for the long run.
When FDA first proposed a rule in 2011 to address what information should be provided in menus at restaurant chains and other similar retail food establishments, the agency understood this was just the first of many steps we would need to take to ensure that our regulations would be properly and effectively implemented. FDA also recognized that striking the appropriate balance would require a dialogue with the diverse parties impacted by our requirements to ensure we fully understood and considered the various concerns, challenges, opportunities and possible consequences of our regulations. We took that obligation seriously, and as we developed the final regulations, we were informed by hundreds of comments from consumers, industry representatives and other interested parties, along with insights captured during many meetings and discussions with a broad spectrum of stakeholders.
Earlier this year, we solicited another round of feedback on implementation of our regulation as part of our ongoing commitment to getting this right. We received feedback from pizza franchise owners, grocery stores, convenience stores and others affected by this rule asking us to provide more clarity and flexibility on several issues that they raised. In addition, we received feedback from consumers and the public health community urging us to quickly finalize our actions so that people can have access to and benefit from this useful information as soon as possible.
I’m fully committed to implementing these provisions on the timetable we’ve already announced. But I’m equally committed to making sure we implement these provisions in a way that is practical, efficient and sustainable. We took to heart questions from stakeholders about how these provisions would work as a practical matter in the real world. By being thoughtful and getting it right now we have before us an opportunity to implement these provisions across the diverse retail food landscape to reach our important underlying goal sooner.
Today, we’re taking an important step in that direction. FDA is releasing a draft guidance in direct response to the comments we got on our menu labeling regulation. We’ve heard the concerns, took them to heart, and are responding with practical solutions to make it easier for industry to meet their obligations in these important public health endeavors.
For instance, some store owners asked us whether posters, billboards, coupon mailings, and other marketing materials would meet FDA’s definition of a menu that would be required to include calorie information. Our new draft guidance explains that these materials are not considered menus under our regulation and do not require calorie counts.
Supermarket and convenience store managers with self-service buffets or beverage stations asked whether they needed to have an individual sign next to each item with a calorie declaration. While this is one way to comply with the regulation, our draft guidance offers other practical ways to post calories for multiple items on a single sign. For instance, a single sign posting that is visible while consumers are making their selection is one way to comply that may provide additional flexibility for some establishments.
Pizza delivery chain owners told us they were struggling to develop menu boards reflecting the thousands of topping combinations people might want on their pizza, so we provided several new examples for how to do this to help them comply with the law’s plain language.
In addition to these examples, we made many other clarifications and accommodations in the draft guidance to make sure implementation of the new menu labeling requirements goes forward on our stated timeframe and succeeds for the long-term.
As a whole, this draft guidance reflects our commitment to establishing a practical and sustainable framework for implementing the new menu labeling provisions. With these resources, we believe covered establishments are well positioned to implement the requirements by the May 7, 2018 compliance date. That said, we continue to welcome feedback from stakeholders that may help further improve this guidance and look forward to working with them as we finalize this guidance for the benefit of the public health.
Over the next several months, we will continue to partner with restaurants and similar retail food establishments through each step in the implementation process and look forward to May, when consumers will have access to clear, consistent calorie information on the menus in their favorite chain restaurants and food establishments.
The FDA, an agency within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, protects the public health by assuring the safety, effectiveness, and security of human and veterinary drugs, vaccines and other biological products for human use, and medical devices. The agency also is responsible for the safety and security of our nation’s food supply, cosmetics, dietary supplements, products that give off electronic radiation, and for regulating tobacco products.