Food allergies are a growing public health concern with approximately 15 million Americans battling each day to avoid an allergic reaction. A food allergy is nothing to sneeze at; it is a life-altering medical condition in which exposure to a certain food triggers an adverse immune response. Allergy sufferers worry about more than a mere stuffy nose, watery eyes, or an itchy rash; allergic reactions can be life-threatening. Each year, 200,000 people in the United States require emergency medical attention for a severe reaction due to food allergies. In an effort to make the dining experience safer for those suffering from food allergies, the Suffolk County Legislature has imposed a new requirement on local food service establishments – and it just may help drive business, too.

Beginning on July 17, 2018, restaurants and food service establishments must include on all menus (including website menus), and menu boards located inside or outside of the establishment, a notice that declares:

Before placing your order, please inform your server if a person in your party has a food allergy.”

The law applies to restaurants, cafeterias, delis, bakeries, ice cream stores, bars/taverns, and food trucks (exempt from the requirement are food service operations at schools, camps, child care facilities/programs, institutional settings, and temporary establishments operated by non-profits).

Restaurants should not view this requirement as a burden, but as a potential boon to business. Many people with food allergies avoid dining out because the majority of food allergy-related deaths are caused by foods consumed outside the home. (By not preparing the food themselves, allergy sufferers may unknowingly consume food that either contained or came in contact with the problem food. Dining out significantly increases the risk, as many people order without inquiring about ingredients or don’t have the medicine available to be treated immediately.) The new law aims to not only increase food safety, but also to increase business by encouraging allergy sufferers to consider dining out and assuaging the concern that food service establishments are unsafe for them.

By demonstrating an understanding of food allergies and a willingness to accommodate the customer’s needs, restaurants and other establishments can help eliminate the fear factor and bring in new customers. Indeed, the Suffolk County Department of Health Services is working on a program where food service establishments are afforded the opportunity to earn the designation “Food Allergy Friendly.” (More details to come.) While poor communication has long stood between the food service industry and those with food allergies, the wheels of change are now in motion.

Please contact us with any compliance questions you may have.

Thank you to John Eyerman for his research and writing contributions to this article.