MN Hospitality Advocate

Association Designs Allergen Poster

Posted in City Council, General Advocacy, Health Care Reform, Restaurant Issues by hospitalityminnesota on December 20, 2009

After months of negotiations, the St. Paul City Council passed a food allergy ordinance requiring every foodservice establishment in the city to display a poster regarding allergens. The Minnesota Restaurant Association and the St. Paul Area Chamber of Commerce spearheaded a coalition that negotiated throughout the process on behalf of the industry. After pushing back an Allergen Information Handbook and an Allergen Action Plan, we agreed on a poster as long as we could have substantial say as to its content. The ordinance as passed called for the poster to be determined by the St. Paul Department of Safety and Inspections.

Because of our extensive involvement in the process, we ultimately designed the poster in cooperation with the Association of Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Minnesota and the St. Paul Area Chamber. Through these efforts, the poster enhances awareness of the most common allergens and cross-contact, but does not increase restaurant liability.

While we modeled the poster on one developed by the national organization Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network (FAAN) and a flier created by the Anaphylaxis and Food Allergy Association of Minnesota (AFAA), we worked with AFAA to remove imperative language that we felt would increase restaurant liability. The poster now includes pictures of the eight major U.S. allergens and common items (cutting boards, utensils, etc.) that can cause cross-contact with allergens.  It is available for free download here.

Once we gained the support of the council to create the poster, the process was swift and was absent of contention, since all parties agreed to the poster’s content. This was in contrast to earlier stages of the political process when we had concerns about poster language that could be construed to increase liability for restaurants.

“Thanks to the work of AFAA, we were able to show how seemingly at-odds organizations can work together on a solution that meets everyone’s needs,” said Molly Grove of the St. Paul Chamber of Commerce.  “Everyone came to the table ready to solve the problem, making this a very good experience for us all.”

The second ordinance, which passed 5-1 provides a 7% license fee discount for restaurants that view a training video provided by the City, and develop in-house procedures when an allergic customer orders food. Although we did not oppose this ordinance, we indicated that few restaurants would engage and wanted to go on record with concerns that the voluntary program could some day become mandatory.

We agreed during the process that allergens are a serious issue in the industry (the new FDA model food code just released in early November has a great deal more about allergens and more inclusion in the Certified Food Manager curriculum is anticipated). We also suggested that we would most support a voluntary effort to educate the industry on the issue. While we did eventually agree to this limited poster mandate, we also remain committed to voluntary efforts to raise the level of awareness in the industry.

Our plan now is to make this poster available to restaurants across the state through our publications and communications and the many entities we work with, such as Convention and Visitors Bureaus, Health Departments, Chambers of Commerce, AFAA and foodservice distributors. In addition, we will be talking to food safety instructors about incorporating the poster and information in their Certified Food Manager training and re-certification training.

David Siegel, CAE, IOM
Minnesota Restaurant, Lodging and Resort & Campground Associations