Three questions that can give you the answers you need to label your “food on display” with calories

I recently had the opportunity to work with a large supermarket chain who was preparing for menu labeling. Determining their approach for “self-service foods” and “food on display” was a particular point of interest. The cross-functional team I was working with entered into a fantastic debate and discussion about how to label these items.

The regulation provides some flexibility for these categories as they’ve recognized some venues (like convenience stores and grocery stores) don’t have menus or menu boards to label. If the Common Sense Nutrition Act passes, there may be even more flexibility to go around.

Flexibility is a good thing, but you’ll need a framework to be able to evaluate your choices and find the best approach for your business.

I recommend using these three questions as your guide:

1. Which option will require the least amount of EXTRA materials to be created? Controlling costs will be critical.

2. Which option will require the least amount of versions to maintain? Menu labeling isn’t a one-time event. Increasing your efficiency in maintaining this information will be critical to your long term success.

3. Which option is in service of the consumer? After all, this is about your customer.

For those who are unclear about what your options are with self-service foods and foods on display, send an email to cheryl@cldnutrition.com and I’ll get you the specifics.

 

Cheryl L. Dolven, MS, RDN is a nutrition consultant with over 15 years in corporate dietetics, including experience in packaged foods, retail, and restaurants. In addition to her work in nutrition affairs and food & nutrition communication, Cheryl works with restaurants to guide them through the menu labeling regulation, with the goal of making it manageable for businesses and meaningful for consumers. Cheryl is co-author of Recipe Nutrient Analysis: Best Practices for Calculation and Chemical Analysis and was recognized by FSR Magazine as one of its “40 rising stars under 40” in 2014.

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Hey Chef: Here is what is missing from your recipe

If you want to have your recipe analyzed for its nutrition content you have two choices: send several samples of the prepared menu item to a laboratory so they can perform chemical analysis or have a food and nutrition expert calculate the nutrition content using your recipe and ingredient information.

If you chose the latter approach (which is much more cost effective), the accuracy and completeness of the recipe you provide to the analyst is critical.

While your standardized recipe may be complete for restaurant operations, you may be surprised at what may be missing to conduct an accurate nutrient analysis.

I asked three of my favorite recipe analysts what is most often missing from the recipes they are given. Take a second look at your recipes after reviewing this expert advice from Wendy Hess, Christin Loudon and Patricia DiLorenzo.

• Failure to clarify ounce vs. fluid ounce. One is a weight and the other is a measure. You cannot assume that 1 fluid ounce also weighs 1 ounce; it will depend on the density of the product. It is best practice to analyze recipes using weights because they are more accurate.

• Missing yield information. Cooking and moisture changes must be taken into account when analyzing a recipe, which makes having only the weight of the unprocessed or uncooked ingredients problematic. The final yield of the cooked product is important.

• Lack of details. Are the nuts salted? Is the flour enriched? What fat content is the ground beef and is the skin on or off the chicken? These details make a big difference in your final result. If you don’t provide them up front, you can be sure that your analyst will pester you relentlessly for these details.

• Omitting the name of the brand or supplier. Similar products can vary greatly in their nutrition content, especially when it comes to sodium. If you know what brand you use, include those details. If you know what supplier provides it, send the spec sheet along so the exact nutrition can be used.

If you want to increase your understanding of recipe analysis, check out www.recipenutrientanalysis.com

Cheryl L. Dolven, MS, RDN is a nutrition consultant with over 15 years in corporate dietetics, including experience in packaged foods, retail, and restaurants. In addition to her work in nutrition affairs and food & nutrition communication, Cheryl works with restaurants to guide them through the menu labeling regulation, with the goal of making it manageable for businesses and meaningful for consumers. Cheryl is co-author of Recipe Nutrient Analysis: Best Practices for Calculation and Chemical Analysis and was recognized by FSR Magazine as one of its “40 rising stars under 40” in 2014.

3 things to do now that menu labeling is delayed

Even though the compliance date for menu labeling has moved (again), it’s important not to lose sight of the end game. Here are three action items to prepare you for menu labeling that you shouldn’t delay.

1. Analyze your recipes. If you don’t have nutrition data for your menu items, you’ll want to get started now. This activity may take you longer than you think, especially if you don’t have all of the ingredient information you need from your suppliers. You may also find your recipes are missing some key information your analyst needs to calculate the nutrition.

 

2. Develop your compliance process. While we don’t know exactly who or how the menu labeling rules will be enforced, we know what FDA will require to prove you have a reasonable basis for the nutrient values you report. Familiarize yourself with the documentation language in the regulation and make sure that documentation is organized and readily available. If you don’t know what documentation is required, send me an email and I’ll get you the specifics (cheryl@cldnutrition.com).

 

3. Create a training program. You operators will need to be prepared when calories come on the menu – this is where it all comes to life! Back-of-house staff will need to understand the importance of following the standardized recipe for which the calorie declarations are based on and front-of-house staff will need to be prepared to interact with customers.

 

Cheryl L. Dolven, MS, RDN is a nutrition consultant with over 15 years in corporate dietetics, including experience in packaged foods, retail, and restaurants. In addition to her work in nutrition affairs and food & nutrition communication, Cheryl works with restaurants to guide them through the menu labeling regulation, to make it manageable for businesses and meaningful for consumers. Cheryl is co-author of Recipe Nutrient Analysis: Best Practices for Calculation and Chemical Analysis and was recognized by FSR Magazine as one of its “40 rising stars under 40” in 2014.

Should I use chemical analysis to audit the nutrition results of my calculated recipe analysis?

A client recently asked me this question. They were considering collecting random samples of prepared menu items “from the field” (their restaurants) and sending them to a lab to verify the results of their calculated nutrition results (using a software program). My answer was no. Here’s why.

 

First, you aren’t comparing apples to apples. Calculated nutrient analysis is based on a standardized recipe. If there is variation in the recipe when it is being prepared (and THERE WILL BE as that is the very nature of handcrafted food!), the activity of chemical testing cannot fairly be used to “test” or verify the accuracy of the calculated analysis work.

Second, you are likely increasing your liability. The odds that you are going to get the very same number are slim to none. So, when you get a different number back from the lab, what will you do with this result?  If they are different – and you do nothing with that information- you are liable.  But what should you do?  What number do you use?  And how big of a difference between the numbers is too big?

Third, you might be wasting your money. Because calculated analysis can be used to provide your reasonable basis, investing in additional chemical analysis may not be worth the spend.

 

There are many scenarios when you’ll want to use chemical analysis – but I don’t believe auditing or verifying the results of calculated analysis through field audits is one of them.

 

This very topic was debated and discussed with a team of colleagues when working on Recipe Nutrient Analysis: Best practices for calculation and chemical analysis and there was consensus on this issue. Here is the excerpt (from page 21):

“Field audits are pulling samples from a restaurant or foodservice establishment as served, visually inspecting them and then sending them to a laboratory. Field audits offer a number of advantages when used as “quality checks.” An audit can help determine if a recipe is being followed, if items are being plated correctly and if portions are correct. Field audits, however, are not a way to validate nutrition analysis, either chemical or calculated. Because no recipe can be made exactly the same every time, nutrient content as served may differ slightly. If your organization decides to implement an audit plan, be sure to define an acceptable range of variability and have an action plan in place if results vary.”