This spring, health authorities in the state of Massachusetts will enact regulations that would require restaurant staff and their menus to address diner allergies to foods such as nuts, dairy products, and other ingredients that cause adverse reactions.
The bill, S.2701, requires that restaurants take a few straightforward precautions in order to ensure the safety of their diners with food allergies. Signed into law last month, the bill goes into effect April 15, 2010
According to the Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network’s Website, trends show a rise in food allergies and associated anaphylaxis. From 1997-2002, peanut allergies in children doubled and today more than 12 million Americans (including 3 million children) have food allergies. That’s one in 25, or 4 percent of the population.
Milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts (e.g., walnuts, almonds, cashews, pistachios, pecans), wheat, soy, fish, and shellfish account for 90 percent of all food-allergic reactions in the U.S.
In the United States, the reported annual number of emergency room visits due to food-induced
anaphylaxis ranges from 50,000 to 125,000, depending on the
source. Even a small trace amount of a food allergen can cause a reaction.
According to the Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network’s Christopher Weiss, Vice President of Advocacy and Government Relations, the network has been working together with the Massachusetts Department of Health and the Massachusetts Restaurant Association on this bill for some time.
“The original version of the bill was introduced in 2005,” said Weiss. “Over the course of the past five years the three organizations worked together and were finally able to come to a version that everyone was happy with.”
Weiss told the Boston Globe last week, “We’re hoping that other states will follow the model that’s being set
in Massachusetts.” Though similar bills have been introduced in only one other state,
Hawaii, Weiss hopes that other states will follow suit.
you look at the research we’ve done on food allergy fatalities, just
about half were the result of food served by a restaurant or some sort
of a food-service establishment,” he said.
S.2701 will require the following of restaurants:
- placement in restaurant kitchens of an approved poster (created by the Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network) providing general information on food allergies as they relate to food preparation,
- all menus must include a statement that the customer should inform the wait staff of food allergies,
- all standard food service courses will include the viewing of an approved food allergy video (also created by the Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network).
The Massachusetts Department of Health will be required to develop a program for restaurants to be designated as “Food Allergy Friendly”, and maintain a list of restaurants on the agency’s website that have received the “Food Allergy Friendly” designation.
To receive a “Food Allergy Friendly” designation, restaurants will be
required to make a master list of all ingredients used in the
preparation of each food item on the menu available for the public.
Participation in this part of the program is voluntary.
The “master list” section of the bill was inspired by local James Beard Award-winning chef/owner Chef Ming Tsai, of Wellesley’s Blue Ginger restaurant. Chef Tsai is also the host for PBS cooking show Simply Ming. As the father of a child with food allergies, Tsai created a “Food Bible” which he keeps in his restaurant.
“I’m so proud that Massachusetts is the first state to pass such
comprehensive legislation,” says Chef Ming Tsai on his website. “I’ve always said if
you are in the restaurant industry, it’s your duty to serve everyone
On food allergies, Tsai told the Boston Globe, “I don’t buy that a restaurant’s too busy that they can’t figure out
whether it’s safe to serve people. If you do not know what’s in your
food at all times, you should get out of the restaurant industry.”
On his Website, Chef Tsai has additional information on food allergy-friendly cooking, videos explaining new MA bill requirements, podcasts, and other information.
The bill is the first of it’s kind in the United States. The full text of S.2701 is available on the Massachusetts Senate Website.
Additional resources on food allergies can be found on the Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network’s Website.