Statement of CSPI Senior Policy Scientist Eva Greenthal

Americans deserve to know how many calories we’re ordering when we order restaurant meals. 

FDA regulations are clear: chain restaurants with 20 or more locations across the U.S. are required to post calories on their menus, including “menus on the Internet.” Menus from covered chain restaurants maintained on third-party platforms like DoorDash and Uber Eats are menus on the Internet and should be covered by these rules. 

In September, a CSPI study revealed that calories were almost always included on menus provided on chain restaurants’ own websites but were often missing from these menus where many consumers are most likely to see them—on third-party ordering platforms. 

That’s why we’re disappointed that the draft guidance issued Wednesday to the chain restaurant industry by the Food and Drug Administration suggests that calorie labeling for menus from covered restaurants on these platforms would be voluntary, not mandatory. The guidance indicates that chain restaurants are subject to menu labeling requirements when offering online ordering directly through their websites, but not when offering online ordering through third-party platforms. CSPI and other public health and consumer groups requested that FDA clarify that its mandatory labeling rules extend to menus on third party platforms in a letter in April 2021. 

Failing to make this information mandatory is an unforced error on the part of the FDA. Last year, the Reagan-Udall Foundation for the FDA issued a report on FDA’s human foods program calling out the agency for an “aversion to risk that undercuts its ability to meet its public health mandate” and calling on the agency to be bolder in exercising its authority, including its authority to promote healthier diets through food labeling. This action typifies the aversion to risk about which Reagan-Udall was concerned. We hope the agency will reverse course as it finalizes its guidance. 

In the meantime, restaurants can—and should—include calories when posting their menus on third-party apps, and the apps should join FDA in encouraging them to do so. Chains like McDonald’s and Panera Bread are already leading the way by opting to include calories wherever their menus are posted. 

Wednesday’s guidance also addressed whether chain restaurants have to produce added sugars information for their menu items upon request, the way they already do for most other components of the Nutrition Facts label. Now that Nutrition Facts Labels include added sugars, CSPI has petitioned FDA to include added sugars in the list of nutrients that would be made available to consumers upon request. But the FDA guidance also clarified that covered restaurants may disclose added sugars to consumers only on a voluntary basis. That is in fact the status quo, and it’s not sufficient. The FDA needs to begin a rule-making process that would require restaurant chains to disclose added sugars upon request. 

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