Food for thought – The Making Healthier Choices Act

Before venturing into a restaurant or food-related business, it would be wise to become familiar with the new Healthy Menu Choices Act (the “Act”).

The Act originates from the Ontario Legislature’s Making Healthier Choices Act 2015 which enacts a number of other acts and amendments which form part of the provincial government’s overall plan to enhance public health. When the Act comes into force in January 2, 2017, food service providers with twenty (20) or more Ontario locations operating under the same name, or which operate substantially the same, will be required to display the amount of calories in their food and beverage products offered for sale on the premises. Food service providers are defined under the Act as any owner or operator (excluding managers) of a regulated food service, and would include franchisors, licensors and owners. This means that menus, labeling, packaging or tags, must display the number of calories in each food product offered for sale. This includes “combo” items.

When additional regulations under the Act are passed, food service providers may be required to display “other information” to be prescribed by regulation. The regulations have not yet been drafted, and the scope of "other information" has not yet been determined.

This requirement to display calories on menu or packaging is not limited to fast-food chains or restaurants, but will include any business that offers prepared meals for immediate consumption. This can include convenience stores, grocery stores and bars.

The Act also authorizes the Minister of Health to appoint inspectors to determine if food service providers are complying with the Act. The Act authorizes the inspector to enter during business hours any regulated food service premises or business premises of a company that owns, operates, franchises or licences regulated food services premises, without warrant.

Failure to comply with the Act may result in substantial fines. For a first offence, an individual will be liable for no more than $500 for every day or part of a day on which the offence occurs or continues. For each subsequent offence the maximum is increased to $1,000 per day. In the case of corporations, fines can be as high as $5,000 per day for first offences and $10,000 per day for subsequent offences.

As mentioned above, the Act does not come into force until 2017. Given the steep fines for breaching the Act, food service providers would be well advised to prepare their businesses for the Act coming into force.

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