Restaurants in Montgomery County will soon be required to have employees on staff who have taken a food allergy training course.
The County Council on Tuesday morning unanimously passed legislation that requires restaurants to have at least one employee who has completed an allergy safety course working at all times that food is being served.
Council member Hans Riemer, who sponsored the bill, said the change will make a “profound difference” in the comfort level of families with members who suffer from severe food allergies.
“There are thousands of residents who have severe food allergies for whom eating something [to] which they are allergic can be life-threatening,” Riemer said Tuesday.
The county already requires restaurants to have a certified “food service manager” on duty who is trained in how to safely handle, store and cook food. Riemer said adding the allergy training is an “incremental” step to the responsibilities of those employees. The new law will take effect on July 1.
The county’s Department of Health and Human Services will provide restaurants with a list of approved online and in-person food allergy training courses, according to the bill. The health department identified training courses offered by AllerTrain that cost $19 for a one-hour training or $69 for a three-hour training.
More than a dozen residents submitted written testimony to the council urging members to pass the bill.
“Several states have passed similar laws,” wrote Marianne Quinn of Silver Spring. “My experience—and that of many others who have dined in these states—is you feel a greater sense of safety and peace of mind. Going out to eat should be fun, but often it is not.”
“There is a tremendous misunderstanding about food allergies,” wrote Jeanne Segal of Bethesda. “People think that ‘just a little’ peanut or egg is not dangerous to someone with allergies to peanuts or eggs when in fact ‘just a little’ could kill my son or make him severely ill.”
Many of the letters contained a similar theme, with residents writing they must be extremely careful when picking a restaurant—and normally only choose those they have been to previously that they know are knowledgeable about food allergies.
The Restaurant Association of Maryland, which represents about 2,000 eateries in the state, said it did not oppose the legislation. Melvin Thompson, government affairs representative for the association, wrote in a letter to the council that food service managers could satisfy the legislation’s requirements by taking a $22 online course through the association that takes about 90 minutes to complete and is offered in both English and Spanish.
One group—The Town Council of Laytonsville—outright opposed the legislation, writing in a letter to the council that the bill is an “over reach by the county government” that “creates an unfair burden on business in the county, especially small food businesses.”