Get Ready for Menu Labeling: Part 3

Get Ready for Menu Labeling: Part 3

How Accurate Is My Restaurant’s Nutrition Information? 4 Steps to Verify Accuracy

By Anita Jones-Mueller, MPH, President of Healthy Dining
May 21, 2015

Read Part 2: How Accurate Does My Nutrition Information Need to Be? The Reasonable Basis Standard
Read Part 4: The Additional Written Information Requirement

The May 5, 2017, menu labeling regulations deadline is approaching, and if your restaurant has already completed menu nutrition analysis, you may be in a good position to meet that deadline. Restaurants with “20 or more locations doing business under the same name and offering for sale substantially the same menu items” will be required to comply with the FDA’s menu labeling regulations, posting certain nutrition information for standard menu items on menus, menu boards and elsewhere in the restaurant. If you haven’t already done so, completing an accurate menu analysis according to FDA’s reasonable basis standard should be your top priority now. If you already have complete menu nutrition analysis, your next step should be verifying the accuracy of your current nutrition information.

As outlined in the FDA’s menu labeling guidance document and the final rules, restaurants must have a “reasonable basis” for nutrient declarations. In other words, restaurants must meet specific requirements to determine the calorie information listed on menus and menu boards and values for the required additional written nutrition information. The FDA states that it may require, upon request and within a reasonable period of time, restaurants to provide information substantiating nutrient values, including the method and data used to derive these nutrient values as well as up to two statements attesting to accuracy and reasonable steps.

When reviewing your menu analysis, there are several steps that can help you verify its accuracy. Please note that truly accurate nutrition information also relies on highly-trained staff adhering to detailed, standardized recipes during preparation. Healthy Dining's culinary dietitians recommend the following steps to complete your verification:

Step 1: Review recipes
How detailed and accurate were the recipes used to complete the nutrition analysis of your menu? Establishing a standardized recipe is a step-by-step process that details and lists such information as ingredients, amount of ingredients, specific brands, cooking temperatures and cooking procedures used to prepare the item. Every restaurant is different. Depending on your concept, you may include the following in your standardized recipes:
  • Recipe name
  • Recipe yield and serving size
  • List of ingredients, including brand names, whether the items are fresh, raw, canned, frozen or pre-packaged, etc. (i.e., low-fat cream cheese, 80/20 raw ground beef, boneless/skinless chicken breast)
  • Specific amounts of ingredients used, including all weights and measurements, such as 3.5 cups, 1.5 quarts, 3 fl. oz., 1.5 teaspoons, 2 ounce weight
  • Preparation information and instructions, such as shredded, diced or cubed, etc.
  • Cooking information, like cook time and temperature, and method of cooking, such as grilled, baked, sautéed, fried

Step 2: Identify Any Missing Ingredients or Procedures
Verify that routine ingredients and procedures, often assumed by kitchen staff, are included in the recipes and used to conduct the analysis. This information can significantly impact the nutrition profile of a dish. Common recipe omissions include:
  • Simple sub-recipes used, such as the seasoned tomatoes recipe used to make the Spanish rice recipe
  • Oil or butter used to prepare or flavor the dish or certain ingredients before final preparation, such as olive oil added to pasta once it’s cooked to prevent the noodles from sticking together
  • Salt added to flavor the dish or certain ingredients before preparation, such as a chicken breast seasoned prior to cooking or the final dash of salt to a dish prior to service.
  • Plating instructions, such as adding garnishes
  • Sides added to the plate before service, such as a roll or steamed vegetables.

“Now, more than ever before, it’s important for restaurants to document accurate recipes from prep to plating. Small assumptions and recipe omissions such as the oil used to sauté, the product label for the tomato sauce used and the final dash of salt added as the dish is going out for service can all add up in terms of calories, fat, sodium and other nutrients,” says Nicole Ring, R.D., Vice President of Nutrition Strategy at Healthy Dining.

FDA and restaurant guests alike will be expecting the nutrition information restaurants post to be accurate. The FDA states that, “Establishments must ensure that the nutrient declarations are truthful and not misleading.”

“Posting detailed and accurate nutrition information is about more than just meeting the FDA menu labeling regulations and avoiding penalties. Dependable and accurate nutrition information that you can stand behind will help build guest trust and loyal business,” stresses Nicole Ring, R.D.

Step 3: Verify Accurate Product Labels
Using generic database nutrition information for ingredients instead of exact product information may seem like a safe shortcut. The truth is, the same ingredients from different suppliers can vary dramatically in nutritional values, affecting the totals you provide to guests. For example, a product label for a generic hamburger bun or pasta sauce is not sufficiently precise. For example, a generic hamburger bun may have 200 calories, but the exact hamburger bun used may have 300 calories. This 100 calorie difference can significantly affect the calories printed on the menu. Product labels used in the menu analysis should match the ingredient in the recipe exactly to ensure accurate nutrition information.

“It’s not uncommon for us to see a seemingly generic pasta sauce vary widely in nutrition such as calories, fat, sodium and sugar. Using the exact product information in recipe analysis and future updates to that analysis as new products and suppliers are incorporated is essential for menu labeling accuracy,” states Nicole Ring, R.D.

Step 4: Identify Missing Values
Look closely at the nutrition information once menu analysis has been completed. Missing, inflated or very low or high values can indicate a serious problem with the analysis as a whole. This is where you may want to work with a culinary nutrition expert who can easily identify discrepancies in nutrition prior to printing the information on your menu.

Menu labeling is a complex process with many opportunities for error. From accurate product labels and detailed recipes to reviewing nutrition information for accuracy and completing ongoing nutrition analysis updates, processes and procedures to maintain accuracy are a must. Implementing an “internal QA program” as recommended by the National Restaurant Association is vital to ensure that your restaurant is in compliance with the new menu labeling regulations.

The importance of “reasonable steps” goes beyond just the accuracy of nutrition analysis. Being sure that the nutritional analysis is done accurately is a must, but it is also important that the food be prepared and served according to the recipes used to complete the nutrient analysis. Both an internal QA program and proper training of staff are essential when it comes to accuracy.

“With a growing focus on restaurant nutrition information, it’s important that restaurants and their nutrition partners have procedures in place to maintain the accuracy of recipe and menu nutrition long-term,” says Nicole Ring, R.D.

Healthy Dining will be providing step-by-step guidance on how to comply with the menu labeling regulations. For more information, contact and Healthy Dining’s team of registered dietitians.

*This article has been reviewed by the FDA and updated according to FDA’s comments.

About Healthy Dining
With 25 years of nutrition expertise in the restaurant industry and hundreds of thousands of restaurant recipes analyzed, Healthy Dining is the most experienced restaurant nutrition services provider in the world. Healthy Dining’s team of registered dietitians supports thousands of restaurants in meeting the expanding nutrition needs of their guests and helps them comply with the new FDA menu labeling regulations. Most of Healthy Dining’s clients are featured on The National Restaurant Association has named Healthy Dining as its exclusive nutrition partner for the industry. Additionally, Healthy Dining has been selected by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to implement a variety of restaurant nutrition-related research projects through the Small Business Innovative Research (SBIR) Program.

Learn more about Healthy Dining's nutrition services.
Meet Healthy Dining's team of registered dietitians. 
For a complimentary consultation, contact one of Healthy Dining's dietitians

Read Part 1: Understanding the Menu Labeling Requirements
Read Part 2: How Accurate Does My Nutrition Information Need to Be? The Reasonable Basis Standard
Read Part 4: The Additional Written Information Requirement
Read Part 5: Beverages, Alcohol, and Menu Labeling

Menu labeling compliance information provided by Healthy Dining should not be construed as legal advice. Our team of registered dietitians and other personnel have reviewed the menu labeling regulations promulgated by the FDA in detail and communicate regularly with the FDA to clarify, ask questions and receive guidance. However, the information Healthy Dining provides has not been drafted or reviewed by an attorney and should not be viewed as legal advice. It is also important to note, that the advice Healthy Dining receives from the FDA in conversations or which was provided by the FDA in the 'Guidance for Industry' document released in March 2015 is nonbinding on the FDA, which expressly reserves the right to change its thinking on various matters.