RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - New legislation is paving the way for safer dining for people with food allergies. A bill requiring food allergy training in Virginia restaurants is just waiting on Gov. Terry McAuliffe's signature.More than 11 million Americans suffer from food allergies, which can cause sufferers to stop breathing or have restricted airways. Every year, food allergies are responsible for 30,000 emergency room visits, 2,000 hospitalizations and 150 deaths nationwide.
The new bill asks for tougher requirements of the food industry, requiring a representative from each restaurant to get trained on allergies and on the signs that someone is having a problem. Virginia Department of Health officials say this new training will focus on the eight major allergies -- milk, eggs, fish, shellfish, wheat, soybeans, peanuts and tree nuts. Classes about food allergies and common symptoms will be available online and through private companies, and there will be free options as well.
One person at each restaurant will have to attend that course, be able to name the allergens and identify symptoms of a problem. The rules will apply to anyone regulated by VDH.
VDH has a plan in place to enforce these rules, but that still needs approval. The bill doesn't require any action from the restaurant after an allergy is identified, but people are encouraged to call 911.
In a statement, VDH said, "This bill assists the Virginia Department of Health in stressing the importance of food allergen awareness in restaurants. The requirements in Code help to ensure that food establishment employees have a solid understanding of food allergens and assist us in providing better educational materials to the industry. The eight major allergens identified by the FDA as causing 90 percent of all documented food allergens in the U.S. are listed in the Virginia Food Regulations. They are milk, eggs, fish, tree nuts, wheat, peanuts, soybeans and crustacean shellfish. The Regulations currently require that at a minimum the Person in Charge (PIC) demonstrate knowledge on major allergen foods and the symptoms of an allergic reaction. The Virginia Department of Health is in the rewrite process of updating the Virginia Food Regulations to coincide with the 2013 FDA Food Code. These changes will include mandating at least one PIC or employee with management responsibility attend a Certified Food Manager certification and depending on the complexity of the operation, a attend a Food Handler's Course. The courses emphasize the importance of food allergen awareness and the role the employee has in exercising food allergen precautions. Precautions include: knowing symptoms; avoiding cross-contamination etc.
Del. Mark Keam, who sponsored the bill, said, "When this bill goes into full effect, Virginians who suffer from food allergies can be comforted knowing that every restaurant in the Commonwealth will have staff knowledgeable about food safety issues," said Keam. "I want to thank my young constituent Claire Troy for coming to Richmond to testify on its behalf, as well as the Virginia Restaurant Association and Department of Health staff for working with me on this important legislation."