With House approval yesterday, the General Assembly , to help make Rhode Island restaurants safer for diners with food allergies.
The legislation (2012-S 2127Aaa, 2012-H 7595Aaa) is modeled after a Massachusetts law that went into effect last year and would require all food-service establishments to have a food protection manager on staff who is trained and certified in food-allergy awareness.
Mongeau is allergic to tree nuts, while her 14-year-old sister, Lauren, is allergic to a wide range of ingredients including: dairy, eggs, red meat, mustard, bananas, sesame seeds and other foods. Lauren, who is a freshman at Prout School, has suffered anaphylactic shock, a life-threatening allergic reaction at restaurants several times.
The bill would require allergy-awareness posters in staff areas to make all food-service workers cognizant of the importance of their roles in preventing allergic reactions and the steps they can take to protect food-allergic customers.
Additionally, restaurants would be required to post a notice on menus and menu boards asking customers to make servers aware when placing their orders if someone in the party has a food allergy.
The legislation, which is sponsored by Sen. Louis P. DiPalma and Rep. J. Russell Jackson, also calls upon the Department of Health to develop a voluntary program for food-service establishments to be designated as “Food Allergy Friendly.” The Department of Health would work with the Rhode Island Hospitality Association and the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network to develop specific guidelines, one requirement would be that the restaurant makes available to the public a list of all ingredients used in every item served.
The Department of Health would maintain a list of Food Allergy Friendly restaurants in the state on its Web site.
Mongeau asked her legislators to introduce the bill after her family spent a week in Boston after the new Massachusetts law took effect. For the first time outside of trips to Disney World (which carefully accommodates food allergies), Mongeau’s family was able to eat anyplace they liked that week.
“They could make a meal for us both in every restaurant we went to,” said Mongeau, who testified before the General Assembly in support of the bill. “We never go out to dinner around here, because no one can accommodate [Lauren’s] allergies.”
The sponsors say they believe the legislation would be good for the restaurant industry, because it would better enable restaurant staff to safely serve customers with allergies, and make it possible for people with allergies who might currently avoid dining out to do so more often.
“Having training standards across the industry will protect restaurants as well as customers, and it will mean that more people with allergies and whole families like the Mongeaus will be able to dine out wherever they want. That’s good for those families as well as the restaurant business,” said DiPalma. “This is a great idea that will not only help protect the Mongeau family, but all the people with food allergies who visit restaurants in Rhode Island. Danielle’s advocacy could have a long-lasting, positive impact on a lot of people in our state.”
The House approved both the House and Senate versions of the bill. Since the Senate bill has passed both chambers, it will now be transmitted to the governor. The House bill will be transmitted to the Senate for action there.