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This week is National Food Allergy Awareness Week, an opportunity to spread the word about the potential health impacts of food allergens. In Massachusetts, we’re proud of our status as a leader in educating both restaurant workers and consumers about food allergies. Here’s why.

In January 2009 Governor Patrick signed into law an Act Relative to Food Allergy Awareness in Restaurants, making Massachusetts the first state in the nation to require, by statute and regulation, menu labeling and food service worker training to raise awareness about food allergens.

The Department of Public Health was tasked with implementing this groundbreaking law, and was proud to partner with the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network (FAAN) and the Massachusetts Restaurant Association (MRA) in the effort. 

The overall purpose of the law is to minimize risk of illness and death from the accidental ingestion of food allergens, by educating the restaurant industry and increasing consumer awareness with respect to major food allergens.

To establish a baseline, Massachusetts health officials adopted the US Food and Drug Administration list of major food allergens as well as foods that include an ingredient that contains proteins derived from any of the foods. These major food allergens include:

  • Milk
  • Eggs
  • Fish (such as bass, flounder, or cod)
  • Crustaceans (such as crab, lobster, or shrimp)
  • Tree nuts (such as almonds, pecans, or walnuts)
  • Wheat
  • Peanuts
  • Soybeans

Since October 2010, all food establishments in Massachusetts are required to have a message on their menus stating “Before placing your order, please inform your server if a person in your party has a food allergy.” The purpose of the message is to promote a dialogue between a food allergy-aware consumer and food service worker who’s been educated about food allergies.

To provide that education, DPH developed an online training video which was made available to all Massachusetts food establishments that are subject to the regulation – as well as in-person workshops to support local public health agencies in enforcing it.

Each food service worker employed by a Massachusetts food establishment is required to complete that training video in order to obtain an Allergen Awareness Training Certificate, which is valid for five years. To date, more than 53,000 food service workers have completed that training.

But our work in promoting food allergy awareness is not done. A third component of the law tasks DPH with developing a voluntary program for restaurants to be designated as “Food Allergy Friendly.” We’ve worked with the MRA and the FAAN on what that program might entail, and we’re nearing completion of draft regulations to begin the process of making it into a reality – so stay tuned!

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