Paul Antico ~ I recently had the opportunity to interview Julia Bradsher, Chief Executive Officer of the Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network (FAAN), to discuss a wide range of issues related to dining out with food allergies. I always find Julia very engaging with insightful comments and an incredible knowledge base of valuable information. This time was no different.
AllergyEats Blog: How would you rate U.S. restaurants, in general, on their efforts and ability to accommodate food-allergic guests?
Julia Bradsher: On the one hand, we have made good progress with many restaurants and restaurant chains in the area of food allergy management and their willingness to welcome guests with food allergies. We hear from our members often about restaurants that do a great job. These range from sit-down restaurants to large chains to “fast food.” On the other hand, we get calls and concerns from FAAN members all the time about problems in restaurants. For example, we recently heard from a mom as follows: “We dined out this weekend at a place we have frequented. My son has peanut/tree nut allergies. The restaurant has a good policy … however, this time a waiter brought out his food while carrying 3 separate dishes, one of which spilled on my son’s dish.” She goes on to say that the waiter rolled his eyes when she informed him of the problem and there was never an acknowledgement or apology from the restaurant about the unsafe practice that occurred.
AllergyEats Blog: What do you feel are the major differences between restaurants that “get it” with respect to serving food-allergic diners and those that do not?
Julia Bradsher: Let’s start with those that “get it.” Many restaurants that “get it” are those that welcome guests with food allergies and have a consistent food allergen management program in place. They practice what we call “The Four Rs”:
- Refer the food allergy concern to the department manager, or person in charge.
- Review the food allergy with the customer and check ingredient labels.
- Remember to check the preparation procedure for potential cross-contact.
- Respond to the customer and inform them of your findings.
Those who don’t “get it” have inconsistent practices, do not follow good cross-contact prevention strategies, and in many cases, have very unfriendly and unwelcoming attitudes toward people with food allergies.
AllergyEats Blog: The AllergyEats Blog and community have recently been attempting to influence a large casual-dining chain on what we consider lax practices. Faced with a restaurant that has a bad reputation for accommodating food-allergic guests, how would you pitch them to become more allergy-friendly?
Julia Bradsher: I often speak to restaurants about food allergen management. I generally talk to them about the basics of food allergy, that it is a win-win partnership between customers with food allergies and the restaurant, and I talk to them about how it makes good business sense for them to welcome guests. In fact, I reference an entry from your blog about the fact that they can improve their revenue through customer loyalty when they welcome guests with food allergies [see "How much are we worth – the 'Veto Vote'"].
AllergyEats Blog: What are the key operational recommendations you give to restaurants looking to become more food allergy-friendly?
Julia Bradsher: I recommend they use FAAN’s Welcoming Guests With Food Allergies to train their restaurant staff on how to manage food allergies. It is a free download (along with other important tools available on our website) at the following link: http://www.foodallergy.org/section/for-food-industry-and-food-service
AllergyEats Blog: FAAN was instrumental in passing the landmark Massachusetts law related to restaurants and food allergy requirements (and we are all extremely grateful for your efforts as well as others’). Would you have liked stricter standards? If so, what would your wish list have been? I stated in a recent AllergyEats Blog entry ["Massachusetts food allergy law goes into effect… but is it enough?"] that, while again very appreciative to have a new restaurant food-allergy law in place, I would have liked to have seen a greater number of restaurant staff required to participate in more formal training. Why might I have been asking too much?
Julia Bradser: I don’t think you’re asking too much. I encourage people to utilize the 2009 Food Code when they talk to restaurants about food allergen management. I am including a description and link here:
The 2009 Food Code includes provisions designed to improve the process by which restaurants address the needs of customers affected by food allergy.
According to Section 2-102.11 of the Code, food establishments should have a person in charge during all hours of operation who is knowledgeable about major food allergens, cross-contaminations, and the symptoms of an allergic reaction. In addition, the person in charge (according to Section 2-103.11 of the Code) should ensure that employees are properly trained in food safety issues, including food allergy awareness, as it is related to their assigned duties.
The FDA updates the Food Code every few years. The Code is used by state, city, county, tribal, and territorial agencies to help regulate restaurants, retail food stores, and vending and food service operations in institutions such as schools, hospitals, nursing homes, and child care centers. The 2009 edition of the Code is the seventh edition published by the FDA. The previous version of the Code was released in 2005, and was amended in 2007. Individual states, however, must adopt the Food Code, and currently no state has adopted the 2009 version of the Code. More information can be seen here: http://www.fda.gov/Food/FoodSafety/RetailFoodProtection/FoodCode/default.htm
AllergyEats Blog: Are we close to seeing similar food allergy legislation in other states? What would you expect in terms of the time frame for another bill?
Julia Bradsher: There are some local initiatives that have passed.
The New York City Council has approved a proposal to require posters with information on food allergy to be placed in food service establishments. The posters would have to be available in multiple languages, including but not limited to Chinese, English, Korean, Russian, and Spanish.
The City Council of St. Paul, Minnesota has approved a similar measure. The St. Paul poster is modeled after a poster developed by FAAN and a flier created by the Anaphylaxis and Food Allergy Association (AFAA) of Minnesota. Special thanks go out to Hospitality Minnesota, the St. Paul Chamber of Commerce, restaurant industry representatives in Minnesota, and AFAA.
Restaurant legislation is starting to get introduced in other states, too.
Assembly Bill 7622 in New York would require proprietors and employees of restaurants to be educated about the dangers of severe food allergy: the need to inform customers of the presence of allergens in menu items; the possibility of cross-contact during food preparation; the symptoms of allergic reactions; and the need for rapid response to such emergencies.
In Pennsylvania, House Bill 45 would require training programs designed to prepare candidates for certification exams to include training on food allergies, including a video and written materials.
AllergyEats Blog: How can we, as individuals, best act as activists to influence restaurant behavior or the political environment in favor of more food allergy-friendly behavior?
Julia Bradsher: Each of your readers has both a member of the House of Representatives and the Senate who represent them. You also have state and local representatives. More than anything, raising awareness with your representatives is critical. There are also some pending bills that will help to improve the lives of people with food allergies. Contacting your representatives about these bills will help and give you an opportunity to be an activist:
- Assembly Bill 7622 in New York would require proprietors and employees of restaurants to be educated about the dangers of severe food allergy: the need to inform customers of the presence of allergens in menu items; the possibility of cross-contact during food preparation; the symptoms of allergic reactions; and the need for rapid response to such emergencies.
- In Pennsylvania, House Bill 45 would require training programs designed to prepare candidates for certification exams to include training on food allergies, including a video and written materials.
- S. 510, the federal Food Safety Modernization Act, is expected to be on the Senate floor during the current session of Congress before they adjourn for the end of the year. Legislation we strongly support, the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Management Act-was amended to S. 510 in Committee. This bill, as included in S. 510, would establish voluntary Federal guidelines to keep food-allergic children safe while at school.
AllergyEats Blog: It is almost 2 years since you joined FAAN as CEO. How have you enjoyed the experience so far?
Julia Bradsher: It has been fantastic! I have met thousands of people who are part of the food allergy community and I am truly enjoying doing this important work. FAAN’s mission remains strong — to raise awareness, provide education and advocacy, and conduct research on behalf of all those impacted by potentially life threatening food allergies. You can sign up for a monthly e-update from me by contacting FAAN at firstname.lastname@example.org and you can follow me on Twitter @JuliaBradsher.
AllergyEats Blog: What are the major items on FAAN’s agenda as we go into 2011?
Julia Bradsher: We will continue to pursue our four-point mission. Our overarching strategic direction is as follows:
- FAAN will increase the awareness of food allergies and the awareness of FAAN.
- FAAN will increase its reach to a broader range of people affected by food allergies, and the focus of our reach will be beyond the member base.
- FAAN will increase its efforts in reaching out to and engaging with the food allergy community, especially at the local/grassroots level.
- FAAN will build upon and enhance its established reputation as the trusted source for food allergy information and research.
- FAAN will enhance and increase its partnerships with organizations, government agencies, and professional associations.
We have some exciting new programs we hope to announce soon.
AllergyEats Blog: Is there anything else you would like to share with us about FAAN, restaurants and food allergies, or any other relevant topic?
Julia Bradsher: Join us in our efforts. I encourage your readers to get involved with FAAN and learn more at www.foodallergy.org.
Article / Interview by Paul Antico, the founder of AllergyEats and the voice behind the AllergyEats Blog. AllergyEats is a comprehensive, user-friendly guide to allergy-friendly restaurants across the United States. It is a peer-reviewed directory of restaurants – rated by people with food allergies, for people with food allergies