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NFIB Maryland: Food Allergy Bill Just Another Nuisance for Small Business

Date: March 25, 2014

Annapolis (March 25, 2014) – A bill requiring restaurants to ask patrons about food allergies and force employees to complete a training course won’t improve the public health but it will cause headaches for small business owners, said the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) today.

“It’s hard to imagine what they’re trying to accomplish here,’” asked NFIB Maryland State Director Jessica Cooper.  “All of this will be redundant to people who know they have allergies.  It can’t help people who don’t know they have allergies.  And for the business owner it’s another legal hazard and another set of hoops to jump through.”

The bill, SB 409, would cover eight food allergies, including cow milk, egg, peanut, fish, shellfish, soy, wheat and tree nuts.  It’s on the agenda this afternoon in the House Health and Government Operation Committee.  Under the measure, restaurants would have to include language on menus and menu boards urging customers to notify their servers if they have an allergy.  And servers would be required to ask before they take an order.

What if customers would rather be discrete and order something they know they can eat rather than announce their personal medical conditions? 

“That could be an awkward thing for people to discuss at a dinner meeting or a first date or any number of social circumstances in which you don’t feel like talking about your allergy,” said Cooper.  “And restaurants shouldn’t be forced to make their customers uncomfortable.”

Restaurant employees would have to complete a course and pass a test in order to be certified, under the bill.  It would require someone with training to be on duty at all times.  And first-time violators could be convicted of a misdemeanor punishable with a $1,000 fine and up to 90 days in jail.

The bill would impose some costs, like printing new menus, for example, as well as fees for the certification courses.  There would also be the cost of paying employees for taking the course when they would otherwise be working.  But the real risks are lawsuits, said Cooper.

“What happens if a customer refuses to disclose an allergy and then gets sick?  How can you prove that your employee asked the question if the customer claims otherwise?  How can you prove that the illness wasn’t caused by the food?  What if the patron doesn’t speak or read English?  This bill raises a thousand questions and doesn’t answer any of them.”

Cooper noted that even if restaurants win in court, they must still bear the costs and sacrifice the time necessary to mount a legal defense.

“If they lose they lose and if they win, they lose,” she said.  “There’s nothing that small businesses fear more than a frivolous lawsuit and this bill invites more of them.”

Cooper said that while food allergies can be serious, restaurant owners already know that and they’re trying hard to accommodate their customers.

“They have nothing to gain and everything to lose by harming or even disappointing their customers and this bill would do nothing to change the incentives or make anyone safer.  They are already responding to customer demand for special menu items.  They are already training their staffs to be sensitive and well informed.  And customers already have the ultimate power that comes with having more choices and more information today than ever before. 

“This is a solution in search of a problem and the only people who will benefit are trial lawyers and bureaucrats.”

For more information about NFIB please visit www.nfib.com.

 


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