Law Makes Allergies a Restaurant's Responsibility, Too

"They may charge some nominal fee for the certificate and training process, but we don't ask," said Condon.

Once a restaurant's managers are certified, Condon expected that the certification and food allergy education will be checked several times a year by local health inspections.

Dr. Scott H. Sicherer, of the Jaffe Food Allergy Institute at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City, said studies have shown both patients and restaurant workers have a long way to go in learning how to deal with a food allergy.

Misconceptions About Food Allergy Safety

Sicherer completed a study of 100 employees in 100 New York restaurants in 2007 and found that most people had no food allergy training.

"Although over 70 percent expressed comfort in providing a safe meal, numerous misconceptions were found when we posed specific question about food allergy," said Sicherer.

For example, 24 percent of the restaurant employees thought a person could eat a small amount of the food to which they are allergic, 35 percent thought a fryer would destroy allergens, and a quarter of people thought it would be acceptable "to simply pick nuts from a finished meal to make it safe."

"None of these practices would be safe," said Sicherer. "Having training, raising awareness and increasing communication between the restaurant personnel and the person with food allergies will go a long way in making restaurant meals safer."

But Sicherer did a complementary study of restaurant patrons with food allergies, and found that often their communication of an allergy could be unclear.

"The problem we know is that sometimes the food allergy isn't communicated properly," said Sicherer. "If you say, 'I'm allergic to peanuts; even a small amount will make me sick,' that's different than saying, 'Hey, does that cake have peanuts in it?'"

Sicherer's research also has found that eating out is one of the major "quality of life" issues for people suffering from food allergies.

Chris Weiss, vice president of advocacy and government relations at the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network (FAAN), said the legislation was a long ways coming.

"We track food allergy fatalities over the years," Weiss told MedPage Today. "We have looked at 63 deaths (in a 10 year period) and found almost half were caused by restaurants."

Weiss hoped that Massachusetts' regulation would catch on.

"We hope that other states will follow the lead," he said.

MedPage Today's Emily Walker contributed to this report

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