Food Safety Law Aims To Make Dining Experience Inclusive

Legislator Joshua Lafazan introduced a restaurant safety bill on the front steps of the Theodore Roosevelt Executive and Legislative Building on July 15. (Photo courtesy of the minority caucus of the Nassau County Legislature)

Life for those with food allergies in Nassau County should be getting a bit easier sooner rather than later.

How many times have you been told at a restaurant that a certain item doesn’t have an ingredient that you specifically asked about? Well, every now and then, that ingredient pops up and causes a severe allergic reaction, many of which are life-threatening if not treated immediately.

Legislator Joshua Lafazan (D-Woodbury) unveiled a food safety bill in mid-July that would require restaurants to not only train their staff, but put up signs about what products are in their food and have a food safety officer on-site. The officer would be present during all operating hours of a restaurant, responsible for helping those who are suffering from allergic reactions, which happens all-too-often.

However, the bill has been changed drastically.

“The county will have to hand-deliver signs versus have them available online,” Lafazan explained. “That’s going to be a task for the Department of Public Health to make sure they’re all delivered.”

The hand-delivery and printing of the signs will be more expensive, but that is what the majority of the Nassau County Legislature opted to change in order to advance this bill.

Also out of the bill is the part about restaurants having the opportunity to opt into a program that would show they push for food safety within their own establishments. This would essentially help staffers identify products in different menu items that might be of a concern to patrons who have severe allergic reactions, such as those who can’t eat anything with traces of peanuts.

“The majority of the bill remains intact,” Lafazan said. “I can’t tell you how excited I am for the food allergy bill. For the first time, it’s making food allergies a priority in Nassau County.”

Lafazan said Nassau County Executive Laura Curran is all for this bill, even with the changes.

“There’s a ton of good that will come from this bill,” Lafazan said. “It’s going to bring validation to so many parents and kids who have fought for so long to make this a priority.”

This isn’t just about peanut allergies, either. With 4,100 restaurants in Nassau County, progress will be made to warn people of major ingredients in food items that could cause a food allergy attack.

This bill, Lafazan said, will remind staffers to prevent cross-contamination at restaurants, especially in kitchens.

“For individuals with food allergies, a lot of them don’t eat out,” Lafazan said. “If they eat out, they go to a specific location that has a proven track record.”

The signs, as well as a mandatory safety training for restaurant employees, will make restaurants more inclusive and evidently, it will give them the potential to reach out to more customers. They’ll spot allergy attacks, as well as institute better kitchen habits when it comes to ingredients and avoiding allergens that are more common, like those in peanuts.

Lawrence Eisenstein, commissioner for the Nassau County Department of Health, and his staff will have to design a training program for restaurants or hire a third-party to train employees.

Lafazan said it will be voted on during a Sept. 23 meeting and is expected to pass the Legislature before being signed into law by Curran. The bill passed the Legislature’s health committee last week. After it’s passed, Curran should sign it into law rather quickly.

“Food allergies are at an all-time high,” Lafazan said. “My colleagues on both sides of the aisle understand this warrants a true sense of urgency.”

Non-compliance with the ordinance would be punishable by a fine of $50 to $500 per violation.

“With the growing number of our population being affected by life-threatening or severe food-related allergies, it is critical that our food service providers be educated, conscientious, safe and empathetic,” Tracy Frankel, president of the Syosset School District Board of Education, said. “[Lafazan]has drafted a bill that will require food service providers to be trained appropriately.”

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