FDA eases labeling rules to help US restaurants shift to take-out model

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is temporarily easing food labeling rules in order to help accelerate the shift of food supplies from restaurants and foodservice distributors to retailers.

A new agency guidance on menu labeling will also make it easier for restaurant chains and other foodservice outlets to operate during the COVID-19 pandemic.

For food manufacturers and restaurants that want to sell packaged food to consumers directly or to other businesses for sale to consumers, the packaged food does not have to have a nutrition facts label, the FDA said in a guidance to industry.

"The FDA has done an amazing job of being flexible and accommodating consumer and food industry needs as a result of the COVID-19 crisis,” Sarah L. Brew with the law firm Faegre Drinker Biddie & Reath LLP, told Law360. “Right now, there's a shortage in the supply chain on the retail side for consumer use in grocery stores, and on the foodservice side, there's an excess of supply in restaurants, hotels, casinos and airports."

Despite FDA’s relaxation of nutrition facts labeling, the FDA requires a statement of identity, ingredients, name and place of business, net quantity of contents, and allergen information, Law360 reported.

"FDA has also indicated that if retail packaging for certain food products is unavailable, it will not object to further production of such food products until the retail packaging is available," John Fuson, a Crowell & Moring LLP partner and former associate chief counsel at the FDA, wrote, Law360 said.

Separately, the agency is easing nutritional labeling requirements on menus and menu boards for restaurant chains.

“The FDA is aware that some of these covered establishments are temporarily changing business practices as a result of the pandemic. For example, some dine-in operations are switching to take-out only, which may require changes in online ordering portals and printed menus,” the agency said. “Because calorie information is required to be declared for standard menu items when a consumer makes a selection, establishments may have difficulty providing this information during a rapid transition to a take-out business practice.”

As a result, the FDA is relaxing its calorie information requirements.

“To provide flexibility to these chains covered by menu-labeling requirements, FDA will not object if establishments do not meet menu-labeling requirements during this public health emergency,” FDA said. 

Photo courtesy of Benoit Daoust/Shutterstock 


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