April 02, 2020

FDA Eases Menu Labeling Requirements for Chain Restaurants and Retail Food Establishments During the COVID-19 Pandemic

On April 1, 2020, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a Temporary Policy Regarding Nutrition Labeling of Standard Menu Items in Chain Restaurants and Similar Retail Food Establishments During the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency to provide restaurant chains with flexibility regarding nutrition information typically provided on menus. FDA’s temporary policy applies to restaurants and similar retail food establishments that operate as a chain with 20 or more locations. This helps restaurants needing flexibility with shifting to new business models, alternative ingredients, new foods, and other changes to menus that would normally require additional steps for nutrition information.

Under normal circumstances, the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act and its implementing rules require restaurant chains to provide nutrition information to customers for items that are routinely included on menus and/or menu boards. This nutrition information must be made available to customers prior to placing a food order. Dine-in restaurant chains typically provide nutrition information on their menus and/or menu boards. However, due to state declarations and COVID-19, many dine-in restaurant chains have temporarily shifted operations to accommodate takeout and to-go orders.

FDA acknowledged that this shift in business practices may affect a restaurant’s ability to comply with the nutrition menu labeling requirements. First, restaurants that traditionally provided nutrition information on menus and menu boards for dine-in customers may have to create or modify website content or printed takeout menus. Additionally, temporary disruptions in the food supply chain may have altered routine menu items offered by a restaurant. In response, FDA announced that it will not object if restaurant chains do not meet the nutrition menu labeling requirements during the COVID-19 public health emergency.

FDA encouraged restaurants to continue to comply with the menu labeling requirements to the extent possible. FDA also emphasized that its temporary policy easing menu nutrition labeling requirements is valid only for the duration of the COVID-19 public health emergency. This step is on top of earlier FDA guidance indicating FDA flexibility during COVID-19 with companies making and selling foods that would typically be not be sold for consumer retail because they are labeled for restaurant use.

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