As a parent of children, yes children, with food allergies, I am acutely aware of the progress the restaurant industry has made in advancing the protection of those afflicted. I say afflicted because food allergies, is not something anyone wishes for, and certainly wishes they could ‘cure’. Unfortunately for many, that scarlet letter will never be cured. Luckily, through both selfless and selfish efforts of many people and organizations, change is occurring. You see it at most national chains – not that that is the benchmark – on their menus notated by the [famous] ‘This item contains…’; pick your poison, literally. In my house, it’s peanuts, tree nuts, shellfish, and whitefish. The greatest concern as a parent is protecting my kids. When it comes to allergies, it literally is a matter of life and death. And, the margin for mistake is extremely small – can we order the plain noodles? Not if they just cooked shrimp scampi in the same pan…. how was I supposed to know! Unless you’ve trained yourself to be diligent with your servers, you literally could be gambling at every meal out – not in Maryland.
On January 23, 2014 legislation was passed that mandates that all food establishments in Maryland have at least one employee on site that has been certified by the Department of Health as having completed a food allergen awareness training course. Yes, there is a test as well. This qualified individual must be available to answer any allergy related questions at the restaurant. Also, the new law requires the restaurant to request from customers any food allergy information either on the menu or from the staff. And, while many responsible and knowledgeable restaurants already participate in this practice as a matter of course, Maryland is leading the way on mandating it – kudos. While we may not remember anyone with food allergies when we were growing up, in 2014, it’s not only a reality, it’s an endemic. Mandate or not, all restaurants should take note.