Monday, March 1, 2010

Massachusetts Food Allergy Awareness Act Requires Restaurants to Take Action

A few weeks ago I told you a story about a server in a restaurant who didn’t seem to take my son’s allergies seriously. It just happens that that restaurant was in Massachusetts.

Interestingly, Massachusetts is the first state to have passed a Food Allergy Awareness Act, in January 2009. That legislation outlines a program for restaurants that must be implemented by July 1, 2010.

The act requires that:
  1. A poster on food allergy awareness must be prominently displayed in a food staff area.
  2. Menus must contain a notice that advises patrons to let their server know what foods they are allergic to.
  3. Food service staff (those in charge) must participate in food allergy awareness training.

The program also includes a voluntary certification for restaurants to be designated as Food Allergy Friendly. This certification would require additional training and identification of food ingredients.

Some details (like the exact wording for the poster, and which foods are considered ‘major’ allergens) are still being worked. An amendment to the Food Allergy Awareness Act was proposed on February 10th, which contains the recommendations for this language. The amendment also includes a requirement for every food establishment to have a designated Food Protection Manager on staff.

I think most of you will agree that this kind of legislation is long overdue.

The new law attempts to place the responsibility for avoiding allergic reactions at restaurants on both the consumer and the food establishment. But some, as reported in this article by MedPage Today, think the burden should be entirely on the customer. Hmmm…

At the same time, I worry that the law may cause all parties to become more complacent. Will the posters and notices cause customers to be less diligent than they would have been in the past? Will the restaurants just focus on what they need to do to be in compliance and nothing more?

What do you think?

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