Is it a restaurant’s responsibility to provide a safe culinary
experience? Or is it just good business? BY ROB BENES
TOP: In this seared New York strip
steak with herb oil, crispy onion rings
and red-onion relish, the steak is
prepared in a grill pan and finished in
the oven. The onion rings are made with
gluten-free pancake mix and fried in a
ore than 12 million Americans have food allergies, with
almost 3 million of them children, according to The Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis
“Food allergy is a life-threatening condition that could cause death in some people within
a few minutes after ingesting certain foods,” says Chris Weiss, vice president of advocacy/
government relations for FAAN. “We hope that restaurants will recognize this growing population,
make the necessary adjustments to their menus, substitute ingredients when needed and educate
both front- and back-of-the-house staff in order to serve safe meals.”
Current literature and data point to the increasing prevalence of food allergies, especially
among children. “As these children become older and begin to dine out more regularly, if their
allergies stay with them or get worse, the impact on the foodservice industry could be widespread,”
PHOTO CREDIT: Top and bottom right, Michael Cairns, Wet Orange Studios
In January 2009, Massachusetts passed a food allergy law designed to make restaurants
safer. This first-of-its-kind in the U.S. (and Massachusetts is still the only state to have such
a law) calls for simple, inexpensive measures all restaurants can take to make dining safe for
those with food allergies.
Ming Tsai, James Beard Award-winning chef/owner of Blue Ginger in Wellesley, Mass.,
and host/executive producer of “Simply Ming” on PBS, helped shape the bill’s language and
guidelines to be not only effective but realistic in a variety of restaurant settings.
“It’s absolutely the restaurant industry’s responsibility to serve safe food to everyone,” Tsai
says. Noting that service cannot be denied because of race, religion, creed or gender, he says
restaurants should be legally required to make accommodations for the food-allergic population,
just as they must for the handicapped.
He adds, “In this economy, why would you turn away a paying customer? If you treat
someone with a food allergy well, you will have a loyal patron for life. It’s good business sense.