Edison brings food allergy awareness to the forefront with proposed ordinance

EDISON – In an effort to improve food allergy awareness in mom and pop restaurants, the Township Council is moving forward with an ordinance that would, if adopted, require every facility in Edison that serves food or beverages to have at least one menu which clearly indicates allergens in each of their foods, as well as a person on hand who can answer questions.

Council members introduced the ordinance on July 25. The public hearing and second reading is scheduled for Aug. 22. The council may adopt the ordinance following the public hearing.

“Caterers who serve in Edison, for example in a buffet line, will also have to indicate the allergens in their dishes,” Councilman Sam Joshi said. “The allergy-friendly menu will have to notate which items on their menus contain the FDA’s (U.S. Food and Drug Administration) eight most common allergens, which are milk, eggs, fish, shellfish, tree nuts, peanuts, wheat, soybeans, as well as MSG (monosodium glutamate) and sulfites.”

Joshi has moved the ordinance forward after a father called him last year, insisting on legislation, because his daughter died from miscommunication involving a caterer. Joshi said he wants the father to know Edison is leading the national standard on food allergy awareness.

“The ordinance will be the boldest, strictest and most impactful food allergy law in New Jersey and in the United States,” he said, adding it will positively benefit 30 percent of families.

Joshi said food allergies are serious and can sometimes be instantly fatal.

“The CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) reports that the prevalence of food allergies in children have increased by 50 percent between 1997 and 2011,” he said. “Between 1997 and 2008, the prevalence of nut allergies have more than tripled in U.S. children.”

Joshi said restaurants in Edison will not have to make or offer new food or beverage items.

“The purpose of this law, which is long overdue, is to bring awareness of potentially fatal allergens in foods,” he said, adding it is not acceptable for restaurants and caterers to not know what they are serving.

Joshi said it is dangerous to believe that using an epinephrine auto-injector (i.e., EpiPen), which is used to treat anaphylaxis, would completely alleviate an individual’s negative reaction to a food.

“An EpiPen often only gives the person an additional 25-minute lifeline before the body goes into anaphylactic shock again,” he said. “Another dangerous misconception is that people can build a tolerance with more consumption of the allergen. This is 100 percent entirely false. Every subsequent reaction is exponentially worse.”

Jay Elliot, director of the Edison Department of Health and Human Services, said in conjunction with FDA regulations, the township requires routine training for restaurants every two years. The training also includes Chartwells Food Service, which provides food for the Edison Township School District.

“We have this process and this [ordinance] is a great way to take it to the next level,” he said.

Elliot said that in 2010, when food regulations changed, department employees brought restaurant owners together to address regulation changes. With the proposed ordinance, he said municipal officials will do the same thing, as well as do a mailing and follow up.

“We will do an in-person training to ensure that everyone fully understands what they will be held accountable for,” he said.

Elliot said a lot of chain restaurants already have their menus online and indicate the eight different food allergens.

“We need to get to the mom and pops … the sub shops, the Chinese restaurants,” he said. “That is the challenge.”

Joshi said the ordinance would only require one menu to be on hand providing a list of the food allergens.

Councilman Joseph Coyle asked if an insert into a Chinese restaurant menu, which is distributed to homes, is sufficient.

Joshi said that would be sufficient.

Council Vice President Leonard Sendelsky thanked Joshi for adding sulfites into the ordinance.

“I almost lost my wife on my honeymoon [because of sulfites],” he said. “She went into anaphylactic shock and until you see something like that you don’t understand. I didn’t completely understand [at the time] and I needed help quick with a doctor. Thankfully, in the Bahamas, there was a doctor who saved my wife’s life.”

Sendelsky, who said his son-in-law is allergic to shellfish, said he appreciates the ordinance.

Councilman Robert Diehl applauded Joshi on his efforts with the ordinance.

“I am 100 percent in favor of the ordinance,” he said, adding there is no room for error when dealing with food allergies. “I’m a person who deals with this in my day-to-day livelihood and I take it extremely seriously.”

Diehl said his next thought is implementation that makes sense for everybody.

“[It has to be] fair to the businesses … and sensible for people who patronize the business so they understand the information we are trying to put out there,” he said.

Diehl said a buffet line with signs everywhere is unattractive and confusing.

Shaban Hani, manager at Villa Gennaros, an Italian restaurant on Lincoln Highway, said identifying allergen information on the menu assures clear communication between the restaurant’s staff and customers.

“It serves as a tool to both educate and inform,” he said. “We are a family run business [for more than 16 years] and our customers are like our extended family. We want them to feel like they are at home when they dine with us.”

Hani said his staff takes a lot of pride in their service and the ordinance will allow them to take it to the next level.

“We are excited to move forward with it,” he said.

Contact Kathy Chang at kchang@newspapermediagroup.com.

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