Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Food Allergy Law in MA

Do you have food allergies? If so, do you worry about those allergies when you dine out at a restaurant?

Though I don't have any food allergies, I know several people who do and they must be very careful when ordering strange food, wary that the dish may contain something that could set off their allergy. Well, some assistance has arrived for these people as a new food allergy law goes into effect this week. This is a landmark law, the first of its kind in the country.

According to the Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network (FAAN), over 12 million Americans have food allergies, about 3 million being children. It is estimated that food-related anaphylaxis results in about 150 deaths and over 50,000 hospital admissions each year. Most allergies involve ingredients such as soy, wheat/gluten, peanuts, tree nuts, dairy, fish, shellfish, and eggs. One of the most famous spokespersons for FAAN is the renowned Chef Ming Tsai, who was instrumental in getting the new allergy law passed.

For several years, Ming Tsai worked with Senator Cynthia Stone Creem (D - MA) to pass a bill to make restaurants safer for those with food allergies. This is especially important to Ming as he has a son with food allergies. Ming's work on education about food allergies has taken many forms and he is obviously proud of his success in getting this law passed.

This food allergy bill, Senate Bill 2701, was signed into law on January 15, 2009. Most of the law goes into effect 90 days after the signing (about April 15, 2009) though the menu requirement does not go into effect until January 1, 2010. The law requires restaurants to do three things, all of which Blue Ginger already does.

These requirements include:

1) Display an approved food allergy awareness poster in the restaurant staff area. Ming Tsai worked with FAAN to create these posters. Compliance with this requirement should be very easy for restaurants.

2) Place a notice on their menus of the customer’s obligation to inform the server about any food allergies. This is the requirement that does not go into effect until 2010. This will cost restaurants some money as they will have to print new menus, or at least add a sticker to existing menus to comply with this requirement.

I don't agree with the necessity for this requirement. This matter involves a rather obvious issue that should not need to be placed into print. If you have food allergies, you should, as a matter of course, inform your food servers about it. That is pure common sense so why the need to remind them?

3) Train food protection managers and persons in charge of restaurants on food allergy issues. This will also cost restaurants a bit for the additional training that is required for some of their employees. This requirement will be ultimately beneficial to the public, ensuring restaurants understand how to handle food allergy issues during preparation and cooking. Though I am sure many restaurants are aware of food allergy issues, it certainly can't hurt to ensure that all places have similar training.

There is another addition to the bill, which is not a requirement, that allows restaurants to earn a "Food Allergy Friendly" designation. Though all of the specific qualifications for this designation are still being written, one item has already been determined. A restaurant would have to produce a master list of all the ingredients used to prepare the food on their menu and that list would have to be made available to the public. This requirement was inspired by the “Food Bible” used at Blue Ginger.

I like the idea behind this designation, having the ability to know all of the ingredients behind any specific dish I might see on a menu. But I suspect that some restaurants may not seek out this designation, worried about giving away too much information on their "secret" recipes. As it is purely voluntary whether a restaurant seeks out this designation or not, I am curious as to how many restaurants, and which ones, eventually do apply for the designation.

What are your thoughts on this new law?


Kathy said...

Thanks for sharing this info! I'm a fellow foodie and I have a lot of food allergies. I once ended up in an ER after eating in a restaurant with poor food prep practices so I think this is an important law. I actually like the idea of the stickers on the menus, too, for a variety of reasons. Great blog and links, btw!

Richard Auffrey said...

Welcome to my blog Kathy and thank you very much for your very kind comments.

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