Restaurant Labeling:  What it Means for Retail RDs

Restaurant Labeling: What it Means for Retail RDs

December 3, 2014

By RDBA Executive Director, Annette Maggi, MS, RDN, LD, FAND

As of December 1, 2015, consumers will have access to calories and nutrition information on all restaurant-type foods as announced last week in the Food & Drug Administration’s final rule Food Labeling; Nutrition Labeling of Standard Menu Items in Restaurants and Similar Retail Food Establishments. The rule not only applies to restaurants, but to any establishment with 20 or more outlets doing business under the same name and offering ready-to-eat options that are primarily the same across these locations. The rationale for the regulation is that half of food dollars are spent on food prepared outside the home and one-third of calories come from these foods, making calorie and nutrition information importantwhen purchasing these items.

The Regulation

At RDBA, we believe this new regulation provides career advancement and scope of influence opportunities for retail dietitians. Before defining these opportunities, let’s review the key elements of the new regulation:

  • All restaurant-type foods are included in the regulation, and are defined as those eaten on the premises, while walking away or soon after arriving at another location. Examples FDA provides include pizza that is ready-to-eat, hot buffet food, salad and soup bars, and grab-and-go sandwiches and wraps in deli.Self-serve beverages are included in the regulation. Bulk bins are excluded.
  • Calorie information must be displayed and include information on suggested daily calories; written nutrition information must be available upon request and you must tell your shoppers it is available.
  • The nutrition information required is primarily the same as is required in the Nutrition Facts Panel (with the exception of the Daily Values).  
  • For packaged foods, FDA has defined Reference Amounts Commonly Consumed (RACCs), which are used as the basis for serving sizes. These are not required to be used in menu labeling. Instead, a logical unit (a slice of pizza, a sandwich, etc.) can be used as the serving size. For whole items where a discreet unit is not obvious (think rotisserie chicken), information must be provided for the entire item.
  • Food items offered for less than 60 total days or 90 consecutive days are not required to provide required calorie and nutrition information.  
  • Written nutrition information can be in the form of a counter card, sign, poster, handout, booklet, loose leaf binder, or on an electronic device such as a computer.
  • Chemical analysis is not required for determining nutrition information; nutrient databases and recipes can be used.

The Opportunity for Retail RDs

Retailers across the country are embracing their role in providing nutrition information and healthy living guidance to their shoppers, and this new regulation extends this opportunity into the deli and ready-to-eat food space. Here are some ideas on how retail dietitians can leverage this new regulation for career advancement:

  • If you manage staff providing regulatory and labeling support for private label brands, develop a proposal for adding ready-to-eat products to your scope. Present it to your Deli and/or Prepared Foods Director and include other decision-makers within the company. Be clear to indicate if additional staffing will be needed on your team to accomplish this, and consider whether a promotion for yourself would be warranted with this expanded responsibility. Others in the company will be relieved to know that you have compliance with this new regulation under control!
  • Even if you don’t have a regulatory background, stepping forward and offering to lead the implementation of this new regulation can be a great career-advancing move. A variety of labeling courses are available, or you can hire a consultant to create the label information.  Leadership of the project requires much more than knowledge of the regulations, including skills you likely already possess – project management, partnership development with internal teams as well as external vendors, etc.  Leverage these skills to show the organization your leadership ability.
  • Develop a presentation for deli and prepared foods teams on the regulation, providing a topline review of the regulation as well as an overview of new responsibilities that need to be managed in order to comply with the regulation. With your background in nutrition, you may see opportunities and pitfalls in the regulation that others may not be aware of, positioning you as a solution-minded problem solver.
  • Position yourself as a resource by providing your company’s deli team with your assessment of various nutrient databases, credible consultants you’d recommend to help your retailer comply with the regulation, and recommendations on record keeping.
  • Leverage your expertise in communications to develop ideas on how this new regulation ties to other healthy living programs offered by your retailer and how deli and prepared foods can now be a part of the solution for health-conscious consumers.

As prepared foods purchased in the retail grocery setting now compete with restaurants, taking a proactive approach to implementing this new regulation and communicating how it ties to your retailer’s commitment to healthy living can help move your career forward.