Ask the County Law Librarian – Food Allergies and Restaurants
Q. My wife and I recently discovered that our one-year-old daughter has several food allergies, including peanuts, dairy, eggs, and peas. Are there any laws in California that require restaurants to indicate any of these ingredients on their menus, if they are not immediately obvious from the nature of the dish?
A. Good question, and one that is applicable to a growing number of parents and children each year. According to the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network (FAAN), “food allergies affect as many as 15 million Americans, and the prevalence is increasing among children. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, food allergy causes more than 300,000 ambulatory care visits each year involving children under 18.” FAAN, a non-profit organization, specializes in promoting public awareness, advocacy and education, and research on behalf of all those affected by food allergies and anaphylaxis.
In recent years food allergy awareness and advocacy has grown, and several states have enacted laws that govern how schools and camps should safely manage children with food allergies. Restaurants, however, are a different story and the subtopic that we’ll be discussing here. If you’d like to find out more on how state laws apply to food allergies in schools, camps, and other institutions, I suggest visiting your local public law library for research assistance. To find the public law library nearest you, go to www.publiclawlibrary.org.
For the most part, state legislators and their respective state restaurant associations have not been able to come to any conclusive agreements on the role restaurants could or should play in regard to food allergy safety. However, in 2011 Massachusetts enacted the Food Allergy Awareness Act, requiring, among other things, restaurants to display a food allergy awareness poster (developed by FAAN) in the staff area and include a notice on menus and menu boards that reads "Before placing your order, please inform your server if a person in your party has a food allergy." In addition, as of February 1, 2011, restaurants in Massachusetts will have to have on staff a certified food protection manager who has been issued a Massachusetts certificate of allergen awareness training through a training program recognized by the MDPH. To read more about these requirements, visit the online Massachusetts Department Health and Human Services.
Currently, California has not passed any statutes or regulations that require restaurants to publish dish ingredients or warn customers about possible allergens, though restaurants can, and frequently do, include warnings of their volition.
California law does, however, require every foodservice establishment to have at least one employee who holds Food Protection Manager Certification, which must be renewed every five years (California Health and Safety Code §113947). If the California certification test is modeled after the nationally-accredited food safety certification from the National Restaurant Association (NRA), it will include information on food allergies and the prevention of incidences. To find out more about the California Food Protection Manager Certification, contact the California Restaurant Association (CRA). The CRA also makes available online resources for accommodating guests with food allergies, including the FAAN’s guide “Welcoming Guests with Food Allergies.”
Ultimately, it is up to the individual, or caretakers of the individual, to advocate food-allergy safety when dining in any restaurant or food establishment, regardless of locale. The following are web sites that offer advice for restaurant diners with food allergies:
Kids with Food Allergies
SuperMarketGuru’s Food Allergy Buddy
FAAN’s Tips for Managing Food Allergies: Dining Out
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