Restaurants, Advocates Prep for New Food Allergy Law Starting Jan. 1

Whether they know it or not, some restaurant managers must be trained in food allergy awareness and safety starting next month.

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But not all of the affected restaurants are prepared or even aware of the 2018 law, according to Julie Campbell, president of the Illinois Food Allergy Education Association, a nonprofit dedicated to advocacy and education on food allergy issues in the state. (The group was not involved in crafting the legislation or training program.)

Under the new rules, which were signed into law in August, managers of category 1 restaurants – those the state public health department says present “a high relative risk” of causing food-borne outbreaks – must undergo accredited food allergen awareness and safety training within 30 days of being hired, with recertification required every three years. Also, at least one manager who has received that training must be on site at all times while the restaurant is open. 

There are roughly 27,000 restaurants in the state, according to the Illinois Restaurant Association, and 13,703 in Chicago, where the new rules will apply to 6,752 classified as category 1 restaurants.

Campbell, whose daughter has a severe peanut allergy, decided to promote awareness of the new law herself by visiting category 1 restaurants throughout the state.

So far she’s visited dozens of independently owned restaurants in six towns, including Decatur, Kankakee, Evanston and Rockford. “Only one time did someone say, ‘I’ve actually gotten training for myself, and if someone comes in with a food allergy, I ask the cook,’” Campbell said. “That’s a great thing to hear but I’ve only heard it once. A few people knew about the law, but most folks did not.”

Campbell said she spoke with whoever was at the restaurant during the time of her visit and did not specifically request to speak with managers as she didn’t want to “be disruptive to their business.” The restaurant visits were informal, she said, and designed to raise awareness of the new law by providing the businesses with information on the new law and details on how to get the required training.

For its part, the IRA says it has included information on the law in its newsletter and on its website and social media. (We easily found a link to this story about the law on the IRA website’s home page.) The association is also informing everyone who attends their Food Service Sanitation Manager class and plans to include information on the law in an end-of-the-year letter about all new industry-specific 2018 laws to its more than 10,000 members, according to IRA President and CEO Sam Toia.

When informed about Campbell’s observations, Toia said “we have to communicate more.” While the law takes effect on New Year’s Day, enforcement won’t begin until July 1, 2018. (If a restaurant doesn’t comply with the law, it’s considered a minor violation and bears no immediate consequence, according to IDPH. If during the next inspection the restaurant has not complied, then it would be considered a repeat violation, which is enforced by the local health department as determined by its local ordinance.)

Toia says that six-month window was intentional as it gives restaurants time to comply with the law. “We don’t want this to be an ‘I gotcha,’” he said. “We want to make sure we’re educating everyone in the food industry of this law coming down.”

The IDPH has dedicated a section of its website to the new law and says it discussed the legislative change with local health departments during the 2017 Food Safety Symposium held in August. IDPH says it continues to remind local health departments about the need to inform restaurants they inspect of this new requirement.

The Kankakee County Health Department is not currently providing education on the new law, unless someone asks about it, said John Bevis, the county’s public health administrator. Starting in the new year, the county intends to mail notices to facilities impacted by the law, inform restaurants of the law during health inspections and direct restaurants to IDPH’s website, he said. The county may also consider hosting informational sessions about the food allergen law, pending demand.

Both the City of Evanston Health & Human Services Department and the Macon County Health Department, which covers Decatur, say they will focus on educating restaurants that must comply with the new law from Jan. 1 through July 1, 2018, at which time they'll begin focusing on enforcement of the law.

The Winnebago County Health Department, which covers Rockford, says it’s been notifying restaurants about the new law during their annual health inspections and plans on doing a larger presentation on it next year.

Contact Kristen Thometz: @kristenthometz | [email protected] | (773) 509-5452

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