The menu labeling mandate seemed like the rollercoaster ride that would never end. Since being formally announced in 2010, the federal menu labeling regulations have had anything but a smooth introduction. Despite pushback from the industry as well as Congress, the final regulations went into effect May 2018. While the industry has enjoyed a relaxed year with minimal enforcement from the FDA, that might be changing in 2019.

On May 7, 2018, FDA Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb announced, “For the first year, we’ll center our efforts on helping covered establishments come into compliance with the law. We’ll focus on educational outreach to provide parties with help on how they can efficiently comply with the new provisions. The FDA will allow covered entities a reasonable opportunity to make adjustments to bring themselves into compliance.” With this first year of menu labeling enforcement nearly behind us, it’s time for those in the industry to dot the final I’s and cross those final T’s, which means preparing certifications. This piece of the regulations that’s so easy to overlook may soon become one of the most important. 

When the FDA delivered the final menu labeling regulations in December of 2014, they did away with the 80/120 rule that so many foodservice operators were planning to see. The 80/120 rule stated that  retail foods cannot contain more than 120% of the declared values of nutrients to limit (calories, saturated fat, sodium, etc.) and cannot contain less than 80% of the declared values for beneficial nutrients (vitamins, minerals, fiber, etc.). Since foods prepared in a scratch cooking environment are much less controlled than retail foods, the FDA did away with this provision and instead required that covered establishments have a “reasonable basis” behind the posted nutritional values. This means that the methods to acquire the information are credible, and that the individual stores have the proper training to ensure recipes are being followed and the public-facing nutrition information is as accurate as possible. 

For a covered establishment to prove their reasonable basis, two levels of certification are required. The first certification is often provided by the corporate office of the establishment, unless the individual stores were completing the nutritional analysis themselves. This certification attests that the reasonable basis used to obtain the posted nutritional values is valid. The FDA has approved several analytical methods for generating nutritional information. Nutrient database analysis, laboratory analysis and cookbooks are the three methods that are cited most frequently in the menu labeling publications. A combination of these “reasonable bases” may also be used. This information, whether supplied by a third party, like MenuTrinfo, or not, must also be accompanied by a signed and dated statement by a responsible individual at the corporate level who can attest to the methods used and declare that the they are complete and accurate.

The second certification must be provided by each individual location. A responsible individual at every store must sign and date a document that states all cooking methods, ingredients, temperatures, etc. adhere to the factors that were used to generate the final nutrition information. This means that if the nutritional values of a fried item were calculated based on the fryer being set to 350-degrees, the restaurant must continue to fry that item at that temperature because altering it could change the caloric value and fat content. If the ingredients or the preparation of an item is changed, the nutritional information must be updated accordingly on the menus and menu boards, as well as on the additional nutritional information that’s being held at each store. 

While these certifications are an integral part of menu labeling compliance, they don’t need to be on hand at every store at all times. They just need to be presented to the FDA within a reasonable time frame, if requested. However, store-level certifications can be a great tool in ensuring consistency and accuracy in food preparation and getting them out of the way now is one less thing to worry about during an inspection. Check that final box for compliance by prioritizing your certifications and having them ready, should that time ever come.  MenuTrinfo is passionate about helping brands with everything nutrition! If you are wondering how to decipher those pesky regulations or looking for full nutritional analysis and menu labeling compliance, we are here to help!