Why do We Have So Many Food Allergies

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allergies_cMore than 12 million Americans have food allergies, and that number increases each year, reported the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network. Those with allergies who aren't fully aware of what they're eating might be in for a bad reaction or worse. That's why state Sen. Lou D'Allesandro is introducing legislation to help raise awareness about food allergies in places where the diner isn't responsible for making the food - local restaurants.

By Rachel Forrest

Federal regulations now require labels on foods notifying people of ingredients known as possible allergens, but this bill, modeled after one passed by the Massachusetts Senate in May and now under consideration in the House, asks for the same kind of information when people dine out.

"I spoke to a group of students at Saint Anselm (College in Manchester) this summer, and a woman wrote me a letter and talked to me about allergy awareness," said D'Allesandro. "I thought it was worth doing here in restaurants and schools. It would require a prominent display of a poster from the Department of Health and Human Services in the staff area to raise awareness, and they'd put messaging on the menu, saying, 'Please let us know if you have an allergy.' It's the customer's obligation to tell them."

The bill is in the drafting stage, but D'Allesandro said it's much like the Massachusetts bill, which would require all restaurants to prominently display a poster about food allergy awareness in the staff area and to include on all menus a notice of the customer's obligation to inform the server about any food allergies.

In addition, it asks the Department of Public Health to develop a voluntary program that allows restaurants to be designated as "Food Allergy Friendly" by the department and requires that if the restaurant meets the guidelines for designation, it must include a list of all the ingredients used in the preparation of each food item on the menu.

Portsmouth restaurateur and chef Evan Mallett of Black Trumpet Bistro said he sees the need for awareness, and he has already tackled the allergy issue.

"Since I've been a chef, I've seen food allergies increase exponentially," he said. "We're going to be in a place where everyone has a food allergy."

Mallett said he feels Americans have been raised on too much food from boxes and not enough of the fresh foods that build resistance to allergies. Still, he's tuned into the allergy issue and offers diners alternatives.

"I create a special menu that says which items are gluten free, and one for the dairy allergic people. Those are mostly intolerances. When it's a life-or-death issue, I take time to go through the menu and find what items we have that could cause a reaction."

He said that if someone has a seriously threatening allergy, it's the guest's obligation to let the staff know ahead of time.

"If it's a Saturday night and I have 80 people here, it puts a lot of responsibility on me to take care of it. I ask that they call 24 hours in advance if their food can't touch something else, like nuts. When I design a menu, we're looking for everything to be equitable. I give a menu for gluten allergies and we have vegetarian dishes and always at least one that's vegan. I think on the current menu we have over a dozen things that are 100 percent gluten free. It's important that everyone who comes into our restaurant gets a chance to enjoy a great meal."


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