Restaurant operators today face the challenge of how to best serve specialty needs diners because people don't often come in and fully disclose what their allergens are. In this blog post, I will highlight the steps local and state municipalities have taken to address how to best serve diners with allergen issues. In part two, I will highlight 5 recommendations for restaurant operators looking to improve serving customers who have allergen intolerances.
Over the past eight years, many local and state municipalities have enacted legislative regulations to highlight best practices for restaurant operators looking to protect their establishments and their customers’ health. One such was passed in New York City in 2009 requiring that a food allergy poster be placed in every commercial kitchen. The poster lists each of the big 8 food allergens and provides best practices for restaurant staff on how to handle specialty needs diners.
The next law we had in our country was up in Massachusetts when The Food Allergy Awareness Act came into place in 2009.The bill required restaurant operators to put signs or posters up in their restaurants that communicated to restaurant patrons the need to disclaim their food allergens. To further protect restaurant managers, the bill required the issue of a state certification in regard to allergen awareness and the completion of watching a 22-minute video as part of the managers allergen training.
The Massachusetts legislation was then mirrored by Rhode Island, who enacted a similar version in June 2012. The good news is they got a law in place and it is certainly clear cut and clean, although some challenges remain in regard to the using the video, which I believe is not an effective educational training tool.
Other laws, one in St. Paul, Minn., and another for the state of Maryland, both require a poster in the back of the house giving information about food allergies. And there are a number of different states that have pending laws or have tried to introduce additional pieces to the law that require different kinds of training, and require different verbiage.
All of the things we're seeing happening in food allergies is what we saw in menu labeling 10 years ago. Soon we will have a patchwork across the country with different legislation in different parts. If I were to look into my crystal ball, I believe that one day we will have a federal mandate across the board. This is why it is important that restaurant operators understand what is happening across the country.
So as states adopt the 2009 and 2011 food code, and as food allergy language comes on board, more and more people will be looking to see what tools are available to answer these mandates.
To further protect themselves, operators need to know the 8 major allergens and the best practices surrounding the use of separate containers and preparation methods designed to prevent cross-contact between one allergen and the next.
My company has partnered with Food Allergy &Research Education (FARE) to develop a food-allergen safety poster in English, Spanish and (soon to be) Mandarin, that is available on our website. We conduct AllerTrain certification courses for restaurant operators, managers and staff. We also developed an AllerCard that lists the top 8 allergens as new requirements mandate restaurants include these items on ingredient labels.
The steps my company has taken through certification development, and through partnerships with organizations such as FARE, are in response to what we see as an ever-growing issue. We want to help restaurant operators flip the fear through increased education and training. As an industry, it is up to us to work out the solutions to these challenges while serving the best interest of our operations and our customers. Earn your customers trust and they will reward you with loyalty.