Edison considering nation’s strictest food allergy law for eateries
EDISON — Township Council members are scheduled to consider a measure Wednesday evening that would implement what's being described as the strictest food allergy law in the country.
Under the proposed ordinance, restaurants in the municipality would be required to identify on their menu any foods that contain or are prepared with common food allergens.
If approved, the menus at hundreds of eateries, and those of caterers delivering food within the township, would need to be updated by October 1.
According to Eddie Hani, manager at Villa Gennaro, an Italian restaurant on Lincoln Highway, food allergies have become a more common issue during his 25-plus years in the restaurant business, especially among youth.
Hani said the restaurant currently does not have allergens marked on the menu, but updating the menus to include the information, or creating separate menus for allergy sufferers, would be a good idea.
The ordinance notes restaurants would need to identify menu items that contain or are prepared with any of the eight foods listed by the Food and Drug Administration as common ingredients that trigger allergies — milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, fish, shellfish, soy and wheat.
Milk and eggs help create many of the goodies available at La Bonbonniere Bake Shoppe along Route 27. Owner Brian Pansari said while there may be good intentions behind the ordinance, posting allergens would likely just become a liability issue for eateries.
"Not every product that we make contains milk ... but there's no way I can guarantee that the dough or the bread hasn't come in contact with milk somewhere in the facility," Pansari said. "So I'm going to label everything as having milk."
Pansari said the proposal is another administrative burden on small businesses.
The New Jersey Restaurant and Hospitality said it has grave concerns for the Edison ordinance as written.
"This ordinance does nothing to protect customers or businesses from dangerous — and potentially life-threatening — situations," said NJRHA President Marilou Halvorsen in an emailed statement to New Jersey 101.5.
"We, and many of our members, advocate that food allergies be communicated directly between guests and servers. This thorough communication is critical and ingrained in most establishments’ training to ensure guests have a safe dining experience. Relying on a multi-page menu that doesn’t take cross contamination, substitutions, or less-common allergens into account will give customers a false sense of security which could have deadly results."
A handful of states have laws on the books related to food allergies, but none include the mandatory noting of menu items. The law in Massachusetts, for example, requires restaurants post a notice on the menu that tells customers to inform their server about a food allergy in their party.
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