Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity

Federal Menu Label Law

Congress passed the federal menu label law, which became effective when President Obama signed the Health Care Reform Act in March 2010. The law requires the FDA to issue proposed regulations to carry out the federal menu label provisions, which it did on April 1, 2011. The comment period for the proposed regulations ended on July 15, 2011. The FDA announced that it will enact regulations to carry out the law and initiate enforcement in 2013. The federal menu label regulation will require covered restaurants and vending machines to disclose nutrition information to consumers.

Provisions of the Federal Menu Label Law in Brief

Requirements of the federal menu label law currently in effect

  • The law applies to retail food establishments that are part of a chain with twenty or more locations nationwide.
  • The calorie content of each menu item will be required to be disclosed on all menus, menu boards, drive-through boards, internet and take-out menus if they are the primary menu used for ordering (hereinafter "menus"), and self-service displays, except for items that are offered for fewer than sixty days a year or for market testing of fewer than ninety days on a menu.
  • The menus must include a statement designating the total daily recommended calories.
  • Upon customer request, the establishment must provide in written form:
    • the total number of calories; and
    • the total number of calories derived from fat; and
    • the total amount of fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, sodium, carbohydrates, sugars, dietary fiber, and protein in each serving.
  • The menus must include a statement that the written nutrition information is available to customers upon request.
  • Operators of twenty or more vending machines must disclose calorie information for food sold in the machines if the Nutrition Facts Panel is not visible.
  • Any individual restaurant, restaurant chain, or vending operator that is not covered by this law can voluntarily elect to comply with the requirements and register with the FDA every other year. Once it does so, the restaurant, chain, or vending machine will be subject to the same requirements as those covered by the law.
  • The law does not affect state or local labeling requirements, such as warning statements, consumer advisories, or allergen labeling concerning the safety of the food or a component of the food. For example, this warning label required in some jurisdictions would not be preempted: "Consuming raw or undercooked meats, poultry, seafood, shellfish, or eggs may increase your risk of foodborne illness."

Outstanding issues

  • The FDA must still consider and establish standards for the following outstanding issues:
    • Menu items that come in different varieties, flavors, sizes, or combinations
    • A statement concerning suggested daily caloric intake
    • Disclosure of other nutrients in written form, if the Secretary deems necessary