Information for Restauranteurs and Food Service Operators - Misleading Claims

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Categories of Misleading Claims

The most common kinds of misleading claims in restaurants can be grouped into the following major categories:

  • place of origin
  • quantity
  • method of preparation
  • adulteration/substitution
  • quality
  • nutrition and diet

Place of origin

Many deceptive words used in connection with foods are meant to indicate their place of origin and are acceptable as long as they are truthful. For example:

  • Nova Scotia lobster
  • Hawaiian pineapple
  • French wine
  • Columbian coffee

Often, however, the words describing the food are not meant to tell us where a food actually came from. For example:

  • Hawaiian pizza
  • English muffins
  • Spanish rice
  • Chinese vegetables
  • Mexican tortillas
  • French dressing

In cases like these, nobody expects the food to be imported. If such items as French or Italian dressing are named on a menu, customers will understand that the name only describes a type of food.

Sometimes, however, consumers may not be sure whether an adjective used is meant to indicate origin, the type of food, or something else, like a method of cooking. If you think this might happen, it is best to clarify.

Adulteration/Substitution

When foods are advertised, customers must be informed when a cheaper product has been substituted either in whole or in part for a more expensive one. The following are some common examples of this kind of deception:

Food being represented Food actually served
orange juice orange drink from flavor crystals
crab salad crab salad containing kamaboko
veal pork
maple syrup table syrup
butter margarine
ice cream ice milk
whipped cream non-dairy topping
coffee coffee with chicory

Quantity

The net quantity of a food served must not be less than the net quantity advertised. Serving less than the amount advertised constitutes deception. For cooked meats, however, the net quantity declared is normally understood to be the net quantity before cooking.

Individuals may not always agree exactly about the meaning of words indicating quantity, such as "large", "medium", and "small", but most people have a general expectation of how much product these words should represent. For example, if it is common practice in most eating establishments to designate a 10 fluid ounce (284 ml) soft drink as "regular", calling this size "large" on the menu may be considered to be misleading, and therefore a violation of the regulations.

Pictures used to advertise foods must also not mislead the customer as to the actual amount of food being offered. For example, a picture of two eggs with three strips of bacon is misleading if the item is served with fewer eggs or bacon strips than shown.

Quality

Restaurants naturally want to stress the quality of the meals they serve. This is, of course, acceptable provided that all statements made are truthful.

Here are a few examples of common claims of quality and some precautions you should take to avoid misleading consumers:

"Fresh vegetables" - Canned or frozen vegetables cannot be advertised as fresh.

"We serve only the best", "finest",etc. - If any food so advertised is less than the highest quality available, this claim becomes misleading. For example, serving beef of Canada B grade quality rather than Canada A grade.

"Made fresh every day" - This claim suggests to the customer that the food being served is freshly made daily. If a prepared product is carried over from one day to the next, a claim of this kind would be misleading.

Method of Preparation

How food is prepared has a great deal to do with how a completed meal looks and tastes. It is also one of the most important factors that customers consider in deciding what to order. Because of this, Restauranteurs should not claim that certain preparation methods have been used if in fact they have not. Pay particular attention to the following claims:

"Homemade" - Any menu item described as "homemade" suggests that the food is not a commercially prepared product. The term is therefore normally inappropriate for use on restaurant menus. Products prepared from scratch on the premises, however, may be described as "homemade style" or "home style" foods.

"Barbecued meats" - Consumers expect these foods to have been cooked by a direct source of radiant heat and not in a pan or an oven. When meats are cooked by frying, broiling,etc.and simply flavored with barbecue sauce, the kind of meat should be named and a descriptive term added like "barbecue flavored" or "with barbecue sauce", (e.g."barbecue flavored pork chops").

Using pictures of food prepared by one method (e.g. charbroiled steak) but serving that item prepared in a different way (e.g. fried steak) is also deceptive.

Nutrition and Diet

Advertising often contains claims about what effects certain foods might have on an individual. The Food and Drug Regulations are very specific as to exactly what kinds of claims are allowed.

Nutrition - Regulations limit the kinds of statements that may be made about the nutritional value of foods. Checking with one of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency offices can help you avoid serious violations.

Diet - Before claiming that certain menu items are appropriate for dieters, it is best to check with one of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency offices listed below. These claims are subject to the Food and Drug Regulations. General statements describing items as "light tasting" or "less filling" are usually acceptable.

Summary

Remember these key points when you advertise food and when you prepare restaurant or food service menus:

  1. Do not say anything about the quality, quantity, identity, origin, or method of preparation of a food that is misleading or untrue. Check with one of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency offices listed below if you plan to make nutrition or diet claims.
  2. Make sure that any statement made about a food will be truthful for the life of the menu. If the statement may prove to be untrue at some time, then qualify it. You may, for example, offer a dessert "with fresh strawberries (in season)".
  3. Rather than make a statement that might be misinterpreted by a customer, be specific. Add enough information to avoid all chance of confusion. For example, your menu could say, "Banana Cream Pie (with non-dairy topping)".
  4. Tell enough about the food you serve so that the customer will always know what to expect.
  5. When a menu statement is no longer true, adjust your menu immediately, so that it always shows exactly what is being served.
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