Mass. restaurants just got safer for people with food allergies

by Erin Graham on February 11, 2010

stockphotopro_45939PDJ_family_enjoying_lA Massachusetts bill signed into law will require restaurants to help prevent adverse reactions among diners with food allergies. The new Mass. law, which goes into effect in July, is designed to increase awareness of food allergies in restaurants and  encourage effective communication between those with allergies and the establishment. If successful, it has the potential to make even more of an impact by becoming federal law.

Michael Pistiner, MD, a clinical instructor at Children’s Hospital Boston who also helps families coping with food allergies, was instrumental in getting this law passed. While many dedicated groups and people tried to turn this kind of bill into law for years, they didn’t have any physician support. So Pistiner happily joined the effort and lobbied with the full support of Children’s Division of Immunology for passage of the bill.

Here’s what Pistiner has to say about the law and the happy turn of events.

Why was the need for these regulations necessary?

Currently, there is no mandatory food allergy education for restaurant staff. A recent study of New York restaurants demonstrated that the surveyed staff were confident that they could safely serve food allergic patrons but demonstrated a lack of knowledge in the management of food allergies in a food establishment. Education is essential to safely serve patrons with food allergies.

How is this law groundbreaking?

It is the first law to mandate that at least one food protection manager has recieved food allergy education. It also requires that menus remind those with food allergies to alert the establishment and that food allergy awareness posters be posted for all staff to view.

Why is this endeavor important to you?

Constant food allergy management (avoidance of accidental exposure and emergency preparedness) is necessary when caring for children with food allergies. This means that each time a food is eaten, care must be taken to know all ingredients (effective label reading) and potential sources of hidden ingredients (e.g. milk in nondairy creamer). It is also necessary to ensure that there is no cross contact with a food that a child is allergic to (e.g. knife used to slice cheese). Relying on others to prepare a meal is very difficult.

Many social events center around food.  In the United States, going out to eat has become an important part of out culture and socialization. Having the opportunity to go out to eat where there is increased awareness of food allergies will increase the quality of life of many kids who have not had this opportunity. Keeping kids safe is essential but so is keeping them happy.

What still needs to be done in terms of legislation?

For now this is a very good start. By increasing basic awareness and communication, some accidental exposures may be prevented and dining out will hopefully become less tricky for those with food allergies. Continued work on the effective implementation of this law will be ongoing prior to and after July 2010.

Should people with food allergies still be vigilant when dining out, even with this law?

Absolutely. I strongly suggest continued clear communication (with a manager if possible) and chosing the types of restaurants and dishes wisely. Simple dishes made from scratch are safest. Please always remember to carry emergency medicine and allergy action plans at all times. If there is any question that an allergen-free meal cannot be safely served, then it is best to politely leave.  For more information on eating out, please see food allergy informational Web sites for tips on eating out safely.

In this video, chef Ming Tsai talks about how he’s made his famous restaurant, Blue Ginger, safe for diners with food allergies. Tsai and Pistiner worked hand-in-hand to ensure that restaurants have the tools they need to really make this new law work — and work well every time.

Read a story about how Children’s doctors cured a boy with severe milk allergies.

1 comment

  • Anonymous

    It’s nice to see that they are actually taking this problem very seriously.

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