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Article of Interest - Food Allergies

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Food Allergy Sufferers Live in Fear of Restaurants, Expert Says
Gongwer News Service, May 15, 2006
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Families that include people with severe food allergies often live in fear of going out to a restaurant only to wind up in the emergency room, something those without allergies take for granted, the Michigan House Regulatory Reform Committee was told Tuesday morning.

Karen Sabuda, whose daughter Mary has a severe peanut allergy, said she always calls ahead to restaurants, talks with the chefs about the oils they cook food in and leaves if she thinks there is the slightest chance that her daughter's food will be contaminated with even trace amounts of peanuts. She added that restaurant employees were often unable to tell her if their food contained peanuts, or was cooked in peanut oil.

"This is our life," Ms. Sabuda said. "We read product labels. Bread labels are particularly difficult to read, but this is our life."

Anne Russell, food allergy program coordinator at the University of Michigan, said that her office deals with young children who have had allergic reactions while out to eat and are now afraid to eat.

"It's a place that creates a minefield for these people," Ms. Russell said.

Their testimony was in support of HB 6020, sponsored by Rep. Barbara Farrah (D-Southgate), which would require restaurants to place a notice on their menus informing customers that they will try to accommodate anyone with food allergies.

The bill would also require the Department of Agriculture to provide restaurants with information about the top eight food allergens which together account for 90 percent of food-related reactions.

But Andy Deloney, public affairs director for the Michigan Restaurant Association, told the committee that the bill was unnecessary because the Department of Agriculture will be convening a group to work the federal 2005 Food Law into Michigan's food code in June. The code currently incorporates the 1999 Food Law, which doesn't mention allergies, but the new law calls for a committee to study the issue of allergens in food service, Mr. Deloney said.

"We'd prefer to deal with these issues in a more comprehensive manner," Mr. Deloney said, rather than have the DOA group recommendation and two to three separate bills.

In addition, Mr. Deloney said the costs of updating every menu at every restaurant in the state are prohibitive, and several restaurants have been cited because they follow the spirit of the law but struggle with the details.

"Having a mandate that places this (warning) on the menu doesn't really solve their problem," he said.


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