Law Makes Allergies a Restaurant's Responsibility, Too

A Massachusetts regulation requires restaurants to get food allergy training.

ByABC News
February 11, 2010, 8:12 PM

Feb. 12, 2010— -- Eating out is often a scary experience for someone with food allergies. Instead of relaxing all evening, he needs to convince a strange waiter and a cook he'll never see to follow strict instructions.

But on Thursday, Massachusetts became the first state to officially put some of the responsibility on restaurants.

Under new regulations, some 24,000 restaurants statewide will have to educate their staffs on food allergies and require managers to get a certified through a food allergy training course.

Suzanne Condon, director environmental health assessment for the Department of Public Health, said she hopes walking into a restaurant and seeing the food allergy certification on the wall will put some customers at ease.

"The certification is the most significant, I think, in terms of food safety training," said Condon.

Restaurants also will have to post information and instructions about food allergies in a staff area, and are required to print the warning: "Before placing your order, please inform your server if a person in your party has a food allergy" on menus.

Dr. Clifford Bassett, an allergist with the New York University School of Medicine, applauded the effort.

"The responsibility is shared -- on the patron, on the restaurant, on the food allergist -- to make sure they have a food allergy action plan," said Bassett. "Most restaurants don't do it, because what if the chef changes the recipe, or what if the chef changes where he gets the ingredients."

Bassett encourages his patients to bring a laminated card with instructions about their food allergies when they go out. This way they can hand the card to the waiter and the message will not be lost or forgotten by the time it reaches the kitchen.

Tarlan Ellis, 29, sees Bassett regularly for her allergies, including an allergy to seaweed.

"I'm quite lucky," said Ellis. "I just have to make sure I don't eat it. I can eat stuff that's been in contact with it, but I can't seaweed itself."

Others with allergies can have an anaphylactic reaction merely by eating something that's touched a peanut, shellfish or milk.