Source: National Restaurant Association
The Food and Drug Administration is expected to release final rules and compliance dates for the federal menu-labeling regulations that were passed as part of the health care law in 2010.
The menu-labeling law generally requires chain restaurants with at least 20 U.S. locations operating under the same trade name to print calories on menus and menu boards; provide additional nutrition information (fat, saturated fat, sodium, protein, etc.) upon request within the restaurant (through a brochure or poster, for example); and print a “recommended intake” statement on menus and menu boards. The FDA is expected to provide the statement with its final rules.
The federal standard will establish a consistent national standard and supersede all state and local menu-labeling provisions.
Menu labeling has the potential to improve our nation’s health by allowing guests to make informed choices about the foods that are appropriate for their diet. This could ultimately contribute to the prevention and control of obesity, heart disease, cancer, diabetes and other nutrition-related conditions. A recent survey by Technomic showed that 65 percent of restaurant patrons favor nutrition labeling in restaurants, with the strongest demand for calorie counts.
The accuracy of nutrition information will be an important factor in the new law’s public-health impact. Inaccurate or unreliable information could compromise consumer trust in menu labeling and hurt brand loyalty.
How can your restaurant protect your brand image by offering your guests accurate nutrition information? Follow these five menu-labeling musts:
1. Establish precise recipes as protocol.
Precise recipes are the foundation of accurate nutrient analysis. Sub- and plated recipes must include exact measurements, detailed descriptions of ingredients ( “ground 97 percent lean turkey breast,” “part-skim mozzarella cheese,” “shredded,” etc.); brand names of ingredients and corresponding nutrition information stated in per-100-gram terms; and specific preparation processes (for example, fried, marinated, sautéed, etc.). If your recipe fails to include those details or your cooking team doesn’t follow the recipe precisely, nutrition information could be inaccurate. Here are just a few examples of how easy it is to go wrong:
2. Dietitians can help.
- If a recipe doesn’t call for salt but a chef adds a pinch before serving a menu item, the sodium content could be understated by at least 100 to 200 milligrams.
- If you use two tablespoons of oil in food preparation, rather than a single tablespoon a recipe calls for, you’ll understate calorie content by 120 calories and fat by 14 grams.
- If your nutrition analysis is based on a 2-ounce serving of salad dressing, but you serve 2.5 ounces, your analysis will be off by 75 calories and 7 grams of fat.
- If half a pickle is included as a garnish on the plate but not included in the recipe or the analysis, the sodium content will be understated by about 500 mg.
- If all four of these examples occur on one plate, the nutrient information is understated by about 200 calories, 21 grams of fat and 700 milligrams of sodium.
- The variance will be unacceptable to guests who rely on your information and could diminish brand loyalty and the public-health benefits of menu labeling.
Calculating nutrient content accurately for complex recipes and preparation procedures takes expertise in nutrition, dietetics and food science, plus an understanding of the unique aspects of foodservice. If you’re working with a dietitian, make sure he or she understands the effects of evaporation, absorption, cooking methods and other processes on nutrient values and applies formulas to compensate for those processes. Set up a quality-control process to double- and triple-check accuracy.
3. Use an accurate database.
If you use a software program to analyze your menu items’ nutrition content, be sure your program includes accurate values for all your brand’s ingredients. Nutrient content (especially sodium content) varies across brands. Gather all product labels and add them to your database.
4. Train staff to adhere to recipe protocols.
Now that you have precise recipes as your foundation, and you have verified the information with dietitians and high-quality databases as needed, it’s important to train your cooking and service staff to meticulously prepare and serve menu items as recipes state. Remember, adding in just a pinch of salt or an extra amount of any ingredient can throw off your analysis, so be sure your team follows recipes exactly.
5. Keep nutrition information up-to-date and accurate.
You’ll need a rigorous operational system to keep your information accurate over time. This starts off with a reporting mechanism each time your chef or culinary team changes a recipe or your supplier provides a different but comparable ingredient. If you work with dietitians, notify them so they can update the nutrition information. You’ll need to train your cooking staff, then let marketing team members know so they can update menus, brochures, websites and other materials that include nutrition information. A rigid system keeps your nutrition information accurate and spares you the trouble of going back to figure out what has or hasn’t been updated. Having a system in place from the beginning will save you time, hassle and money.
's team of registered dietitians offers expert nutrient analysis, accuracy validation and consultation in menu labeling compliance.
This article was provided by National Restaurant Association partner Healthy Dining
and written by Anita Jones-Mueller, MPH and President for Healthy Dining.