Restaurants and chefs across the United States are getting better at welcoming food-allergic and celiac customers. Yet how these good intentions are turned into actions, including training, can vary from restaurant to restaurant.
While working in food manufacturing, William Weichelt was used to operating with strict national food allergy requirements, as mandated by the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act (FALCPA). But when he moved into the food-service business as a director with the National Restaurant Association, none of those regulations applied.
“I was amazed that so much emphasis was placed on food allergens at the manufacturing level, yet at the restaurant level, very little of the content existed,” he says. This glaring gap motivated him to create the ServSafe Allergens online training program.
On a national level, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s 2013 Food Code was amended in 2017 to recommend that restaurants have a person in charge who is knowledgeable about food safety, including allergy-aware kitchen procedures. Under the revised code, that same person must also ensure that restaurant employees are trained on food allergies in relation to their duties.
Gaps with Trained Staff
While this was a major step forward, AllerTrain program founder Betsy Craig notes that it’s up to individual states or jurisdictions to adopt the Food Code’s recommendations – and only a select few states are up-to-date on the most recent Code.
“While there’s verbiage about food allergies in the Food Code, it only affects a small number of states as they adopt the newer Code, and it’s written in such a way that is very subjective to the interpretation of the reader, and then subject to how the state department of health decides to put it into practice.”
At present, training is only required in a handful of states, including Illinois, Massachusetts, Michigan, Rhode Island and Virginia, while other locations, such as Maryland, New York City and St. Paul, Minn., require food allergy awareness posters in the kitchen.
While the majority of states have no mandated training, Craig says these regulations are a start – and are putting food allergies and celiac disease on the radar of consumers and chefs. “Not long ago, this wasn’t even on the plate,” she says.