Massachusetts food allergy awareness law goes into effect… but is it enough?
Along with just about everyone else who cares about food allergies in America, I was very excited when Massachusetts became the first state in the nation to pass a law setting basic requirements for restaurants to help protect patrons with food allergies.
Of the four requirements, 2 went into effect on October 1:
– Restaurants must prominently display a food allergy awareness poster in their kitchens.
– Restaurants must print the following on their menu: “Before placing your order, please inform your server if a person in your party has a food allergy.”
The other 2 requirements, which have not yet taken effect, are as follows:
– Every restaurant must have a “certified food protection manager” who has viewed a specified training video (goes into effect in February).
– The Massachusetts Department of Public Health must create a set of criteria that allow a restaurant to be designated as “allergy friendly” (date TBD, but sources caution me not to expect this soon).
This is a great start. No question. And despite anything you read in the rest of this post, please do not mistake it as a criticism of the current law or the tremendous effort that went into its creation. I, like so many others, am extremely grateful to all those who put in the incredible time and energy on our behalf to pioneer this extremely important initiative. They deserve our respect and gratitude.
But I do wish the provisions of the law were more stringent. In particular, I’m bothered by the requirement that only one person per restaurant needs to be food allergy trained, and that the training is simply watching a half-hour video.
Is it enough to only require a single employee to be trained? Is 30 minutes enough for proper training? Will that one individual be qualified to teach an entire staff about food allergies after simply watching a half-hour video?
The Health Director of Pittsfield, MA states: “To me, it’s very difficult to get a handle on all of the allergen issues in a restaurant. … Everyone that’s part of the process should be well-trained and aware how to deal with allergens.” (The Berkshire Eagle, “What’s on the menu? Food allergies”, 10/1/10)
This leads me to my other major concern. Is a poster enough for the rest of the staff? Will it just blend into the scenery over time, destined to be rarely noticed? Unfortunately, my guess is yes.
Yet, with turnover in restaurant staffing being incredibly high, I understand that many restaurateurs do not feel they can “fully” train each employee. It may not be feasible for some. To me, the most reasonable and prudent alternative would be to require more than one individual per restaurant go through a training program, preferably something more engaging than just a half-hour video. How can we be sure these restaurant employees are truly paying attention and not texting, daydreaming, or falling asleep? Realize that this video is viewed in one’s personal environment and not at a training center of any sort.
Further, according to a Letter to the Editor in the Berkshire Eagle (“Allergen Act is only a first step”, 10/7/10), both the video and poster are only available in English.
Yes, I know I’m acting the part of Monday morning quarterback, but I wish this law had tougher provisions.
That said, I don’t fault the authors of the law. Again, I’m thrilled that they were able to craft a law in the first place.
In fact, I assume the authors of this law would also have liked stricter requirements. However, political realities being what they are, I’ll hazard a guess that it would have been impossible for all parties to agree on tougher provisions.
Maybe that’s why the food allergy friendly designation option is part of the law – to provide a way to reward restaurants that go further that just complying with the basic provisions. (AllergyEats will further reward these restaurants by adding a prominent logo on the core website (www.allergyeats.com) for all who earn this food allergy friendly designation, just as it currently does with gluten-free restaurants that earn the GFRAP title.)
The author of the Berkshire Eagle letter stated it well when she wrote: “I wish to remind people with food allergies that this new law doesn’t make a restaurant ‘safe’ for dining in. It almost creates a false sense of security. More education, training, and awareness needs to be done in the restaurant industry.”
More education, training, and awareness. Sounds like an issue readers of this blog have been talking about recently and an issue that the most allergy-friendly restaurants already practice.
So while I’m very happy that Massachusetts now has a law in place, the reality is that there will still be a large disparity between those restaurants that “get it” and those that don’t. And whether a restaurant gets it or not will be determined by the commitment of that restaurant’s owners and management.
So what do you think? Am I unreasonable? Should I just be thankful for the great strides accomplished with this law and not ask for more? Am I mistaking any facts? Or do you too wish the law’s provisions were stronger? Are there additional changes you would have wanted? Please click on Comments or Reply below to share your thoughts. (And please don’t think that you have to be from Massachusetts to respond. Hopefully, similar laws will pass nationwide over time.) I would also welcome any comments by those who worked tirelessly on the creation of this law.
As always, let me also remind you that AllergyEats is here to help our community determine which restaurants truly are the most (and least) allergy-friendly. To do so, we need your help. Please go to the main AllergyEats site (www.allergyeats.com) and rate any restaurant at which you’ve recently dined. It only takes a minute, but it makes a big difference. Each new rating increases the value of AllergyEats for our entire food allergy and intolerance community.