As online ordering explodes during pandemic, Americans need calories disclosed online too
The nonprofit organization that started the movement to require calories on chain restaurant menus and menu boards—along with five other consumer and health advocacy organizations—says that DoorDash, Seamless, Grubhub, and Uber Eats should be required to disclose calories and other required nutrition information for chains covered by the menu labeling law.
The menu labeling provisions of the Affordable Care Act require chains with 20 or more outlets to disclose calories for standard menu items and to disclose additional nutrition information upon request. The Food and Drug Administration’s regulations specify that the law applies to online menus as well as physical menus, and federal law makes nearly all parties involved in the sale or delivery of food from restaurant chains responsible for complying with these requirements. But the Center for Science in the Public Interest and other consumer and health groups say covered restaurant chains and third-party ordering platforms are failing to supply this important information to consumers, blunting its public health impact.
CSPI, American Heart Association, American Public Health Association, the Center for Digital Democracy, Consumer Federation of America, and Consumer Reports urged Dr. Susan T. Mayne, director of the FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, to issue clarifying guidance to the industry.
“Use of third-party platforms to order restaurant food has soared in recent years, and online ordering is safer for consumers than ordering in-person to prevent the spread of COVID-19,” the groups wrote to Mayne. “However, many chain restaurants and third-party platforms fail to provide nutrition information when menus are listed on third-party platforms, significantly undercutting the public health goals of nutrition labeling.”
The consumer groups point to Chipotle as an example. When ordering via Chipotle.com, consumers can see calorie counts for each ingredient and menu item, as required by law. Yet Chipotle’s menus on DoorDash and Seamless do not include calorie counts for such items. That arbitrary distinction has no basis in the law, according to the groups.
Even before the pandemic, more than 60 percent of young adults used third-party ordering platforms. And since the start of the pandemic, 80 percent of non-pizza orders were conducted on a third-party platform.
“Americans are using third-party ordering apps like DoorDash more than ever before,” said CSPI senior science policy associate Eva Greenthal. “But restaurant chains and ordering platforms are failing to meet menu labeling requirements under the law, depriving consumers of an important tool to make healthy choices when ordering food and reducing the incentive for companies to reformulate. It’s time for the FDA to make clear that the rules apply to DoorDash, Seamless, Grubhub, Uber Eats, and the rest.”
“Restaurant delivery apps deploy the latest Big Data online marketing practices to drive orders for items full of fat and calories,” said Jeff Chester, executive director at the Center for Digital Democracy. “These so-called ‘third-party platforms’ are using our own data to harm our health, especially for young consumers. The FDA must ensure customers receive nutrition information from ordering apps, so they can make better decisions about their health.”