Have you ever visited a restaurant, eagerly perusing the menu, only to find that most dishes contain something you’re allergic to? If you have a food allergy, dining out can be a bit of a minefield. While you want to enjoy delicious food and good company, you must also be vigilant about avoiding allergens that could make you sick.
Fortunately, there are food allergy laws and regulations in place that help protect diners with food allergies. Let’s look at what you need to know about food allergy laws and restaurants and help you dine out confidently and safely.
Food Allergy Laws in the United States
Food allergies are a serious concern for millions of Americans. It is estimated that they affect 32 million people in the United States. To help protect individuals with food allergies, federal laws require food manufacturers and restaurants to provide allergen information and accommodations.
The Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act (FALCPA)
The Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act (FALCPA) is a federal law enacted in 2004. The law requires that food labels identify major food allergens, which include milk, eggs, fish, crustacean shellfish, tree nuts, peanuts, wheat, and soybeans. This means a food product containing any of these allergens must be labeled clearly on the packaging. The allergens must also be listed in plain language, such as “contains milk” or “contains peanuts.”
This law is important for individuals with food allergies, as it gives them the information they need to make safe food choices. By reading food labels and understanding the ingredients in their food, individuals with food allergies can avoid foods that may cause an allergic reaction.
Cross-contamination is a significant concern for individuals with food allergies, especially in restaurants. Cross-contamination occurs when an allergen comes into contact with a food item that does not typically contain that allergen. For example, if a restaurant uses the same cutting board to prepare a peanut butter and a cheese sandwich, the cheese sandwich may become contaminated with peanut residue.
To prevent cross-contamination, restaurants must take certain precautions, such as using separate cutting boards, utensils, and cooking surfaces for different food items. They must also train staff on safe food handling practices and allergen awareness. By taking these steps, restaurants can help to ensure the safety of individuals with food allergies.
Food Allergy Laws in Illinois
Illinois has taken significant steps to ensure the safety of individuals with food allergies. There are two critical laws in place that require food establishments to take certain precautions to prevent allergic reactions.
Food Handling Regulation Enforcement Act (FHREA)
The Food Handling Regulation Enforcement Act (FHREA) is a law that outlines the food handling requirements for food establishments in Illinois. Under this law, food establishments must have a certified food manager on-site during all hours of operation. The certified manager is responsible for ensuring that food is handled and prepared safely and that employees are trained on safe food handling practices.
The FHREA requires that food establishments display a food allergy awareness poster in the kitchen or other visible locations. The poster includes information about the most common food allergens and how to prevent cross-contamination. By displaying this poster, food establishments can raise awareness among their employees and help to prevent allergic reactions.
Food Allergy Awareness Training Act
The Food Allergy Awareness Training Act requires all food service establishments in Illinois to have a certified food protection manager on-site during all hours of operation. The law requires that all food service employees complete a food allergy awareness training program within 30 days of their employment.
The Illinois Department of Public Health must approve the training program and cover topics such as identifying allergens, preventing cross-contamination, and responding to allergic reactions. The law also mandates that food service establishments keep a record of employee training and provide refresher training every three years.
By requiring food establishments to have certified food managers and allergy awareness training, Illinois aims to ensure that food service employees are knowledgeable about food allergies and equipped to handle them safely. These laws also empower individuals with food allergies to dine out more confidently, knowing that the food establishments they visit take the necessary precautions to prevent allergic reactions.
Responsibilities of Customers with Food Allergies
While food establishments are responsible for preventing allergic reactions, individuals with food allergies also have a crucial role in keeping themselves safe. Here are some key responsibilities that individuals with food allergies should keep in mind when dining out:
Communicate Your Allergy
One of the most important things individuals with food allergies can do is to communicate their allergy to the food establishment staff. Before placing an order, individuals should inform the staff of their allergies and ask about the ingredients in the dish.
It’s important to be specific and clear about allergies and dietary restrictions. For example, instead of saying, “I’m allergic to nuts,” individuals should say, “I’m allergic to peanuts and tree nuts.” This clarity helps to ensure that the food establishment staff understands the severity of the allergy and takes the necessary precautions.
Read the Menu Carefully
Individuals with food allergies should take the time to read the menu carefully and look for any potential allergens. Some food establishments may label dishes that contain common allergens, while others may have separate allergy-friendly menus.
If the menu isn’t clear or doesn’t provide enough information, individuals should ask the staff for more details about the ingredients and preparation of a particular dish.
Individuals with food allergies should always be prepared for an allergic reaction when dining out. This means carrying an epinephrine auto-injector (such as an EpiPen) and knowing how to use it. It’s also a good idea to have an emergency plan and inform dining companions about the allergy and what to do in case of a reaction.
Food allergy laws and regulations are critical in protecting individuals with food allergies and preventing allergic reactions. Both food establishments and individuals with food allergies need to understand their respective responsibilities and take the necessary steps to ensure a safe dining experience.
We Can Help!
Newland & Newland LLP is a law firm based in Arlington Heights, Illinois, specializing in personal injury and food allergy cases. With over 20 years of experience, our team of attorneys has helped clients throughout Illinois, including Palatine, Mt Prospect, Buffalo Grove, Rolling Meadows, Prospect Heights, and Elk Grove, recover compensation for medical expenses, lost wages, and pain and suffering resulting from food allergies from restaurants.
We also provide our services in Chicago, Arlington Heights, Libertyville, Itasca, Crystal Lake, and Joliet.
If you or a loved one has been affected by a food allergy at a restaurant, contact us today for a free consultation. We will help you navigate the legal system and get your deserved compensation.