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February 16, 2007

Massachusetts Considering Legislation for Food Allergy Safe Restaurants

A reader sent us a link to an article regarding legislation pending at the MA State House that calls for food allergy training for restaurant workers. It also requires the addition of a tag line on menus asking customers with allergies to alert their servers prior to ordering, and the prominent display in restaurant kitchens of a poster showing the most common food allergens, as well as information on how to avoid cross-contamination.

I'm not sure if this is a good idea or not. Would this give parents a false sense of security? This comes back to the concept of "real restaurants" vs. fast food joints. McDonalds and Burger King have a pretty controlled process to kick out their meals (this is by no means a healthy alternative but at least you know what you are getting). Other restaurants can provide a greater variety and sometime healthier meals. Along with that, though, is the risk of cross contamination.

The debate rages as to what restaurants should be doing for the food allergic community. The article says that New Jersey is the only state other than Massachusetts with food allergy restaurant legislation currently pending.

The article also goes on to talk about the Restaurant Association puting up a fight. I understand the difficulties in running a small business and adding work only makes it harder to make money. On the other hand, if a server or a chef promises a safe meal and the dining experience turns life threatening, a lawsuit is sure to follow. And lawsuits can make or break a small restaurant.

Would some extra training and posting of information really be all that bad? Seems to me like a good way to go for the restaurant owners. That said, I still don't know how much I would trust the culinary creativity of a fine restaurant with my child's food allergies. We've ventured as far as the chain sit-down restaraunts like Outback Steakhouse and The Yard House. Maybe we should keep a running tab of safe restaurant chains where our readers have had good dining experiences with theif food allergic children. If you have a good story, let us know.

Posted by David at February 16, 2007 12:06 PM


I think training would be a great idea in so much as it would help the staff understand better what food allergies and cross contamination are. I do not think I would rely on it as a safety measure. I would still take every precaution as I would today (we actually don't feel comfortable going out to eat yet). Any "training" is a good thing. It is still up to the costumer/food allergy sufferer to be their own advocate.

Posted by: ChupieandJsmama at February 18, 2007 1:30 PM

I agree with the other comment that training is a good idea, if nothing else, train the wait staff to better understand that food allergy customers aren't just "annoying PITAs." Train them to be able to say "I don't know, let me get the manager" when confronted with a food allergy issue. Train them to say "I can't guarantee anything," rather than "the customer is always right" with an eyerolling attitude. I'm sorry to admit that when I was a young waitress I never would have been able to wrap my brain around a life-threatening food allergy. Mandating minimal training for all food service staff would do a better job of minimizing lawsuits than anything else--this serves the restaurant owners more than the allergy customers, but would be a benefit to the allergy community by spreading awareness.

Posted by: Laura F. at February 28, 2007 8:32 AM