ANNAPOLIS – The Maryland House of Delegates Wednesday passed a revamped version of a bill to provide safeguards for restaurant diners who suffer from food allergies.
The new bill, amended by its sponsor, would establish a Task Force on Food Allergies and Restaurant Patrons to examine the problems food allergy sufferers face when dining out and come up with recommendations for change.
Passed by a vote of 111-21, the bill now goes to the Senate Finance Committee for consideration.
Delegate Shirley Nathan-Pulliam, D-Baltimore County, a co-sponsor of the bill, said creating a task force was the best way to keep alive the idea of aiding food allergy sufferers.
“We knew we weren’t going to pass the bill the way it was,” she said.
Originally, the bill, introduced by Delegate Joan Stern, D-Montgomery, required restaurants to provide customers with a list of foods containing eight specified allergens and two additives.
Discussions with food industry representatives and a member of Johns Hopkins Hospital helped persuade Stern to rewrite the bill.
“There are a lot of things that need to be worked out for restaurants that don’t use their own fresh ingredients,” Stern said. “We really want this issue studied thoroughly and done right to make eating at restaurants safer for food allergy sufferers.”
Stern said she hopes a compromise can be reached with food manufacturers for more thorough food labeling on prepackaged products. Restaurants opposed the original bill because it failed to recognize the liability involved with prepackaged food labeling.
Brendan Flanagan, a lobbyist for the Restaurant Association of Maryland has said it would be difficult for restaurants that don’t use fresh ingredients to provide customers with any assurance that the food they eat will not get them sick. Suppliers and manufacturers often don’t list all the ingredients for oils, sauces or spices they send to restaurants.
The task force, which would consult with the Food and Drug Administration on food labeling laws and policies, will be made up of 10 representatives: the secretary of Health and Mental Hygiene, the attorney general of Maryland, a food allergist, a food allergy sufferer, a parent of a child who suffers from food allergies, a dietician, a restaurateur, lawmakers and a representative of the food marketing and processing industry.
Nathan-Pulliam, whose daughter is allergic to some seafood, hopes the task force also will review whether more detailed labeling would be costly and whether those costs would be passed on to the consumer.
The task force has until Dec. 1, 2000, to gather information and present recommendations to the governor and General Assembly.