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As of Feb. 1, all Massachusetts restaurants will be required to have a certified food protection manager on staff.
The National Restaurant Association and the Massachusetts Restaurant Association jointly unveiled an approved program to help restaurants comply with the state's restaurant allergy-awareness law that was passed in 2009.
The food protection manager must have completed allergen-awareness training through a program recognized by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health. Certifications must be renewed every five years.
The state health department approved the NRA/MRA Massachusetts Allergen Training program, which includes a 30-minute online training video developed by the Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network.
The program covers various types of food allergies, the consequences of cross-contamination and the necessary precautions to take when serving guests with food allergens. Managers also learned what steps to take if a guest experiences a reaction.
Additionally, these managers, according to The Boston Channel, are responsible for teaching their restaurant's staff about serving customers with food allergies and minimizing mistakes. They are also expected to personally serve food to guests with allergies.
As the law rolls into place, restaurants are encouraged to avoid complex dishes that may subtly hide allergens, such as shellfish or rye. Federal law does not currently require “minor” allergens to be listed on food labels.
Also under the new law, Massachusetts restaurants are now required to print the warning: “Before placing your order, please inform your server if a person in your party has a food allergy” on menus and other materials, including takeout pamphlets, websites and catering menus.
Chains without print menus can place the statement on menu boards or post it at the point of sale. As with any other restaurant law, local health inspectors will periodically check for compliance.
The Food Allergy Awareness Act went into place almost a year ago behind the efforts of the Massachusetts Department of Public Health.
Massachusetts is the only state that requires restaurants to educate staff on food allergies. As incidents of food allergies continue to rise, state officials have expressed hope that other states will follow their lead.
The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases estimates that food allergy occurs in 6 to 8 percent of children 4 years of age or under, and in 3.7 percent of adults.