Providing Consumers More Information with Menu and Vending Labeling

By: Margaret A. Hamburg, M.D.

Increasingly, Americans are paying more attention to the foods we eat – the kinds, the quantities, the sources, and the individual ingredients that go into our meals. We know that when we have more information about the nutritional content of our food, we have the opportunity to make more informed choices.

Margaret Hamburg, M.D.Increased awareness about the choices we make certainly does not mean that we always eat what is healthy. But whether we choose to eat french fries or a tuna sandwich, those selections should reflect informed decision-making. That can only happen if the right information is available to make those choices. That’s why the two new rules FDA issued today on menu and vending machine labeling are so valuable for consumers.

Some states, localities and big restaurant chains are already doing their own forms of menu labeling. The new rules will require calorie information to be listed in a consistent, direct and accessible manner on menus in chain restaurants and similar retail food establishments, and on vending machines. Under the menu labeling rule, certain additional nutrition information will need to be available in writing when customers ask for it.

This is especially important, because about one third of the calories Americans eat and drink come from foods and beverages consumed away from home. In addition, research shows that when we eat out we often consume less nutritious foods and underestimate the number of calories we are taking in.

People can clearly benefit by knowing more, and the new FDA rules will help to do just that. They are not requirements about what people should eat or what restaurants should serve, but rather they will place more information in the customer’s hands so that they can make more informed choices for themselves and their families.

After considering more than 1,100 comments on the proposed versions of these rules, the rules create a consistent approach that will establish a level playing field for larger chain restaurants, while not being overly burdensome on small businesses or individual food establishments. The menu labeling rule applies to restaurants and similar retail food establishments only if they are part of a chain of 20 or more locations and satisfy other criteria.

Few decisions are as critical to our health and our daily lives as those involving the foods we eat. With these new rules on menu and vending machine labeling, Americans can be more certain that those choices are informed ones.

Margaret A. Hamburg, M.D., is Commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration

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