New Law Protects Customers from Murderous Restaurateurs, Peanuts

A new Massachusetts law sponsored by the marvelously named state Sen. Cynthia Stone Creem (D-Middlesex and Norfolk) aims to protect food allergy sufferers from the scourge of restaurants keen to kill their customers, and restaurants from the scourge of allergic customers keen to kill themselves.

In addition to basic awareness-raising poster and video mandates, the law contains this forehead-slappingly stupid requirement:

Every person licensed as an innholder or common victualer, when serving food, shall...include on all menus a notice to customers of the customer’s obligation to inform the server about any food allergies.

That's right: The law requires restaurants to use their menus to remind people whose throats will close up upon encountering a peanut to ask if there's any peanuts in their food. Really? We needed Sen. Stone Creem to make that conversation happen?

The law graciously allows restaurants until January 1, 2010, to add the warning sentence to their menus. Meanwhile, allergy sufferers will likely be dying in droves, without that vital reminder to ask if the food they're about to eat will kill them.

There's also a voluntary program where restaurants can create a book with all the ingredients they use in every dish and thus be certified "Food Allergy Friendly." Hilarious syntax aside—are the restaurants pro-allergy?—this program is a classic example of legislation that need not be. If restaurants want to make their ingredients list available and advertise that to allergy sufferers, more power to them. In fact, Chef Ming Tsai of Blue Ginger, who has been pushing this legislation for years, already does this at his restaurant.

***

My former boss and New York Times science columnist John Tierney likes to tell this tale of pro-regulation bias in the media:

I once sat in on a newspaper story conference the day after an armored-car company was robbed of millions of dollars bound for banks. The first idea that came up for a follow-up story was: Does this robbery show the need for stricter regulation of armored-car companies?

We kicked this idea around until I suggested that companies in the business of transporting cash already had a fairly strong incentive not to lose it—presumably an even stronger incentive than any government official regulating their security arrangements. That story idea died, but not the mind-set that produced it.

This goes double for legislators.

Via Mike Riggs

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  • ||

    Thread Jack :

    The Chicago Sun Times is reporting that Illinois might put forth bill in the General Assembly to allow Concealed Carry Weapons permits

  • ||

    Chef Ming Tsai of Blue Ginger, who has been pushing this legislation for years

    Fuck. One of my favorite chefs is a moron and a statist. Great.

  • The Extispicator||

    This reminds me of a story one of my professors told in my legal ethics class in law school. A story had been in the news about a lawyer that stole a bunch of money from his clients' trust accounts. The professor said he was at a conference of some sort discussing the case with a group of colleagues when a judge asked him, "Is there more we could be doing at the law school level to prevent things like this?"

    The professor replied, "You mean telling law students that it's still wrong to steal even after they pass the bar?"

  • ||

    Peanut allergy is interesting. It doesn't seem to occur very often in places like India or China. But it seems to be rampant in the last 20 years among the children of a certain class of well off Americans. Are upper class yuppies just different genetically than everyone else in the world?

  • MNG||

    "Meanwhile, allergy sufferers will likely be dying in droves, without that vital reminder to ask if the food they're about to eat will kill them."

    This is one of those "uncommonly silly" laws, but the premise upon which KMW rests is often just as uncommonly silly. Many libertarians say "well of course we can trust that company x will never harm its customers because then 1. the customer will die and can' buy more stuff 2. the customer will be upset and never shop there again and spread that word to his friends and neighbors or 3. the bad press over harming a customer will cause boycotts and such."

    And while there is something to that, it's uncommonly silly too. I mean, according to that logic a company would never, ever put out peanut butter that would harm its customers, right?

    The thing is, people are fairly irrational, and its amazing how irrational they can be when they think they can make a few bucks. You simply can't count on the constant rationality of producers and consumers, because it's just not there...

  • phalkor||

    Why do Democrats insist that they can save people from their own stupidty? If they had their way we wouldn't have Darwin Awards.

    John, I heard about a study regarding allergies and yuppies (no linky) and there seemed to be two things to take away. Yuppies and especially their children have a greater number of reported allergies. The cause is either growing up in environments that are too sterile to develop any resistances and worry-wart parents ushering in an ever-growing nanny state.

    Fuck'em, my parents let me eat dirt. Sure, it was gross, but how else do you learn?

  • New World Dan||

    Chef Ming Tsai of Blue Ginger, who has been pushing this legislation for years

    Fuck. One of my favorite chefs is a moron and a statist. Great.


    It could be, given that he has been known to cook with peanuts and shellfish, that he is looking for a more formal liability shield. He may also just really care about people with food allergies. The legislation also includes sections on creating "allergy friendly" resturaunts, which could be of interest to him. I suspect the labeling is a small part of it for Mr. Tsai.

    Also, he cooks on PBS. What do you expect?

  • MNG||

    Or here is an interesting way to think about this kind of thing. What about a law that requires the seller to make known the ingredients, maybe just upon request, prior to allowing sale?

    I can almost see the response: "well if a person wants to buy stuff from a company that won't tell him the ingredients then it should be free to do that." Reasonable. But that "freedom" easily becomes something else: since the eateries don't have to supply many will not because the marginal benefit of making those who ask for it happy may not be greater than the cost of supplying the information, and then it becomes not just the freedom but the common practice of most eateries to just say "tough it we don't do that here" and the customer faces the regular weighing of going along and taking a risk (mind you I don't just mean deathly risks of course, but a whole continuum) so that he/she can eat with friends and co-workers or restricting themselves to a small group of catering establishments.

    And passing such a law would really only mean that people have to honestly represent their wares, something that would provide greater assurance that following transactions were voluntary to the fullest extent...It's just no big deal imo...

  • MNG||

    "Why do Democrats insist that they can save people from their own stupidty?"

    We care about people. I mean, when you do care about someone you often feel a very strong desire to not see them suffer, even if said suffering is "because of their own stupidity."

    Really. Lots of humans feel this way dude.

  • Right Wing Realist||

    Reason is killing it with the pictures lately.

  • MNG||

    "Fuck'em, my parents let me eat dirt. Sure, it was gross, but how else do you learn?
    "

    But they didn't let you drink anti-freeze I bet...I mean, why didn't they? How are you ever going to learn that's its bad for you...

    Maybe thats a good analogy. The Democrat wants to stop kids from drinking anti-freeze, even though their stupidity is what makes them want to do it. The libertarian says "oh so you still disagree with my reasoned lecture on why drinking anti-freeze is bad, eh son, then go ahead, drink up, it's the only way you'll ever learn son..."

  • ¢||

    One of my favorite chefs is a moron and a statist. Great.

    Of psychological interest: The highlighted section of his law demands notice of the customer's obligation to inform the restaurant how dysgenic he is, not notice for customers of what's in the food, so they can decide what they should be eating.

    Chefing is a cultish, bodies-as-cogs, the-weak-will-be-broken kind of occupation. Put that kind of mind to politics, and...yeah. Scary nanny.

  • ||

    Common intertubes figure is 50 to 200 fatalities per year from anaphylaxis with up to 90% food related (no way). Let's assume 20% of these deaths are exposures in restaurants (also, no way).

    MA is 2% of US total population, so using all conservative factors:

    200 x 0.9 X 0.2 x 0.02 = 0.72 lives saved per year.

    My god, how could we have overlooked this? It scandalous.

  • ||

    Also, he cooks on PBS. What do you expect?

    Well he used to cook on the Food Network!

  • ||

    But they didn't let you drink anti-freeze I bet...

    I drank a lot of Mountain Dew. That's almost the same, right? Just look at me!

  • CAIR Bear||

    The solution is to keep mum about peanut content. That way all of the peanut allergy folks will die off. It isn't Darwin's 200th birthday for nothinn'.

  • Obamatarian||

    What MNG said.


    I do fear requiring restaurants to notify patrons to ask servers if there are any high risk ingredients used in food preparation will some how "let them off the hook" legally when the inevitable tragedy of anaphylaxis occurs.

  • MNG||

    "That's almost the same, right?"

    It's close. My car can run on it for a couple of days so there's that...

    BTW Epi, thanks a lot [sarcasm] for posting the link on the Shatner Esperanto. The wiki on that was so freaky that now I gotta see it.

    I mean, this alone sealed that deal:

    "Outraged by this, her sister Amael (Eloise Hardt) summons their leader, a devilish incubus (Milos), who attempts to kill Marc and rapes the soldier's sister Arndis (Atmar)."

  • Zeb||

    People with food allergies piss me off. I know it's mean and irrational, but they just do. Especially this peanut allergy crap that is so popular these days.

  • ||

    I drank a lot of Mountain Dew. That's almost the same, right? Just look at me!

    Are you planning on trying the new MD Throwback that uses real sugar rather than HFCS ?

  • ||

    You mean telling law students that it's still wrong to steal even after they pass the bar?

    It is? Nobody told me!

    It could be, given that he has been known to cook with peanuts and shellfish, that he is looking for a more formal liability shield.

    What this law really seems to do is promote individual responsibility, by, potentially, creating a bar to suing a restaurant if you neglected to tell them about your special condition. The sad thing is that, in this day and age, it takes a statute to accomplish this.

    He may also just really care about people with food allergies.

    Apparently not, if he cooks with shellfish and peanuts.

  • robc||

    MNG,

    Maybe thats a good analogy.

    The problem is that

    Parent:Child::Government:Consumer

    is a fucking poor analogy.

  • ||

    The libertarian says "oh so you still disagree with my reasoned lecture on why drinking anti-freeze is bad, eh son, then go ahead, drink up, it's the only way you'll ever learn son..."

    Maybe, but they may also say "How far do you intend to go to stop the few people who want to drink anti-freeze despite the warnings of their parents and the prominently displayed Mr. Yuk sticker?".

  • Zeb||

    "I do fear requiring restaurants to notify patrons to ask servers if there are any high risk ingredients used in food preparation will some how "let them off the hook" legally when the inevitable tragedy of anaphylaxis occurs."

    Why should they be on the hook in the first place? Unless they are asked and give false information, I don't see how the restaurant could be liable for someone eating something they know could kill them.

  • ||

    BTW Epi, thanks a lot [sarcasm] for posting the link on the Shatner Esperanto. The wiki on that was so freaky that now I gotta see it.

    It's actually not bad. The cinematography is gorgeous.

  • ||

    The professor replied, "You mean telling law students that it's still wrong to steal even after they pass the bar?"



    That wouldn't have stopped Frank Abignale from pretending not to steal. We need to law outlawing pretending to steal! Only then will attorneys' clients be safe.

  • ||

    Are you planning on trying the new MD Throwback that uses real sugar rather than HFCS ?

    Whoa.

    No, I won't be trying it. I'm past the MD and on to energy drinks now. I need my Taurine, damn it!

    What is Taurine?

  • robc||

    Taurine, or 2-aminoethanesulfonic acid, is an organic acid. It is also a major constituent of bile

  • robc||

    ^^^from wikipedia

  • ||

    It was a joke, rob. I know what Taurine is. I was mocking people who drink things that say stuff like "with extra Taurine!!!" without even knowing what it is.

  • ||

    On top of the low societal risk for this issue, advisory labeling is only protective for people who KNOW they're allergic. I'd be willing to bet most anaphylaxis fatalities are people who didn't.

  • Christopher Monnier||

    I have a food allergy (nothing as serious as a peanut allergy), and I always read ingredients on product labels in stores. I'm sure many people do, especially those with allergies. I don't see why it's not reasonable to apply the same type of thing to restaurants. Right now, patrons have to ask the waiter (or cashier in the case of fast food) whether the food they want to order contains certain ingredients. Not only does this waste the waiter's time, but it also increases the probability that the information obtained will be erroneous.

    Now, all that being said, it should be in any restaurant's best interest to always disclose ingredients, if for no other reason than to avoid lawsuits. But having a law that requires it doesn't really seem like that big of a deal to me.

  • ||

    I don't see how the restaurant could be liable for someone eating something they know could kill them.

    [Shakes head sadly.] New here, huh, kid? This is a society where someone so drunk that they fall onto a subway track and pass out can collect a $2.3MM check when they get hit by the train.

    You see, its never the idiot's victim's fault. Why didn't the restaurant ask? Why didn't the restaurant disclose all their ingredients? Why expect this person to look after their own best interest, when there will always be somebody around we can send the bill to?

  • robc||

    Actual conversation from 2003 in a bar in the Bahamas:

    Me: Does your drink special have coconut in it?

    Waitress: We cant tell you what is in it.

    Me: I just want to know if it is made from coconut rum or not.

    Waitress: If we give out the ingredients, people will make it at home.

    Me: Well, Im about to order one and I would like to know if Im going to be throwing up all over your restaurant or not, since Im allergic to coconut.

    Waitress: Oh...uh...welll...yeah, it has coconut rum.

    Me: I will have a [something non-deadly] then.

    No need for government involvment at all.

  • phalkor||

    I'm sorry I missed MNG here, but you (and robc) did point out something very important. The government is not and should not be your mommy and daddy. Appeals to sympathy don't change that statement. I guess this is the ideological line in the sand.

  • teetees||

    "It is also a major constituent of bile"

    As is joe.

  • ||

    Well, I'm glad someone's finally thinking of the children.

  • ||

    But what else will lawmakers do if they don't pass laws that save our children from peanuts?!

  • ||

    But what else will lawmakers do if they don't pass laws that save our children from peanuts?!

    Pass laws that save our children from economic prosperity and freedom.

  • Naga Sadow||

    MNG,

    I work in a restaurant. EVERYONE already lets me know they have a peanut or shellfish allergy. Fuck you! I'm not going to be held liable just because someone was to stupid to let me know ahead of time. I feel for that person, but I'm not going to go down just because that person is stupid.

  • David Pinto||

    I don't know why I still live in this state.

  • ||

    An interesting article explains how food allergy fatality stats commonly cited in the media are like the Super Bowl wife beating stats.

    A call to the CDC press office revealed that the number of deaths from food allergies, as collected from 2.5 million death certificates across the country, is miniscule. Only eleven people died from food allergies in 2005, the last year for which we have data available. More people died from lawnmower accidents.


    And avalanches.

    What we have here is stupid law promoted by stupid people for stupid reasons based on bullshit numbers.

    But hey, their intentions are good.

  • Paul||

    But they didn't let you drink anti-freeze I bet...I mean, why didn't they? How are you ever going to learn that's its bad for you...

    MNG, were you in a state-run orphanage as a kid? My dad taught me this stuff. My guess is the government and its agents actually taught you this stuff? When looking at your comments through that lens, I begin to see your point.

  • Kreel Sarloo||

    God a'mighty, MNG is really angling to take joe's Hit and Run's Most Self Righteous Busy Body crown, isn't he?

    Do you think we should vote on it?

  • wage slave||

    With a name like Cynthia Stone Creem she is either going to be a porn star or food activist. Or both (coming soon, Kelly Brownell jelly-wrestling Marion Nestle - "I've just come to control your portions ma'am" "What a large nanny state you've got there" etc etc).

    Anyway, this is back at MNG: my brother has a severe peanut allergy (the slightest exposure leads to Epipens, ambulances, and the sinking feeling that Death has your faltering heart in his icy grip). In my experience, he is very active when it comes to checking ingredients, and all without the government prompting him. Astonishing, I know.

    Unfortunately, even when the severity of the allergy is spelled out to wait staff, we still get food with nut shavings sprinkled on top, peanut oil used to seal flaps etc. So now he mostly goes to McDonalds as its food is clearly labelled on its website. Thank God for highly processed food. Is this the free market at work or something?

  • Jeff P||

    How 'bout a law that restaurants can't have 70s hits blasting above conversational levels.

  • Paul||

    J sub... be careful on CDC statistics. It's the shortest path to pissing off the let's-regulate-it alarmists. Shortest. Fucking. Path.

    I used to use this cdc tool to successfully shut down every "omg, teh guns are killing children" argument I ever got hit with.

  • ev||

    I also have to comment on the 'rampant' nature of these allergies these days. Peanut allergies seem new, and this whole gluten-free thing also. I worked with a girl who couldn't have gluten. Gluten is in like everything. The food she had to eat was more like that prison-brick food.

    Did these people just die if they were born 100 years ago? And that's why we never heard of it? That makes sense to me biologically but it seems as if this fad (or...whatever)has been accelerating with remarkable speed.

    MNG-
    "Why do Democrats insist that they can save people from their own stupidty?"

    We care about people. I mean, when you do care about someone you often feel a very strong desire to not see them suffer, even if said suffering is "because of their own stupidity."

    Really. Lots of humans feel this way dude.

    I've discovered that I really don't care for the folk. They just irritate me. Most people can go fuck themselves.

  • ||

    J sub... be careful on CDC statistics. It's the shortest path to pissing off the let's-regulate-it alarmists. Shortest. Fucking. Path.

    The weird thing about the CDC is that if lawmakers and journalists actually used the data collected in decision making and op-ed pieces, instead of lazily quoting some bullshit number a rent seeking teat sucker handed them, a libertarian could almost justify continuing its federally funded existence.

    But they don't.

  • Gregor||

    As the world falls apart, REASON forges ahead through the various arcane worlds of drug laws and food regulation. As I said starting 6 weeks ago, your publication has completely ceded the intellectual battle over a debt deflation to others. Even your on topic articles are just rehash jobs, of the ideas of others.

    Take another hit off yer bong.

  • Fluffy||

    Here's my prediction:

    This law will turn into a law requiring all restaurants to identify all the ingredients in items on their menus, as well as preparation methods.

    MNG will say this is reasonable, since the rest of us are only experiencing a minor cost in order to provide information of very high value to a small number of people.

    That law will then turn into a law banning the use of certain ingredients [first peanuts, then other things] in order to "protect consumers" and "protect workers" from the chance they might accidentally come into contact with a molecule of peanut. Because after all, the rest of us should change our lives to accomodate genetic defectives.

    MNG will tell us this is reasonable, because the rest of us encounter only a modest restriction on our liberty ["It's not that many ingredients!"] while a small number of people gain an increase in safety.

    Personally, I think it's a GOOD thing that the market does not always accomodate niche interests by imposing costs on everyone. Niche interests should bear their own costs. If we start playing, "Can't we inconvenience / limit / extort the majority, if it's in a small way, if it has a great benefit to this small group of unfortunates?" you basically turn one of the strengths of the market completely on its head.

  • ||

    If peanut allergies killed faster, we wouldn't have an epidemic.

  • economist||

    "The libertarian says 'oh so you still disagree with my reasoned lecture on why drinking anti-freeze is bad, eh son, then go ahead, drink up, it's the only way you'll ever learn son...'"

    No, most libertarians assume that children, not being the same as adults, need guidance and restraint at times. They just object to treating adults as children. And if an adult decides he wants to drink antifreeze, go right ahead. They just shouldn't come crying to me when it makes them go blind.

  • ||

    I have a shellfish allergy. It's so bad I can't even eat in a restaurant that serves a lot of crab because it's in the air from people cracking legs open. You know who's to blame the three or four times a year that I get a dose of shellfish and get sick? Me. And only me.

    The urge to treat adults like children is the last form of authoritarianism that will die out.

  • ||

    The joke isn't just that her name is Cynthia Stone Creem. Its that she represents Middlesex and Norfolk (correctly pronounced).

  • ||

    "Upper Class Yuppies" tend to be well educated and obtain better medical care when their child's throat swells, they turn blue and are struggling to breathe. They also tend to be able to have insurance and/or AFFORD Epipens which can cost $100-300 if you are uninsured.

    In the inner city, there are other worries, and a food allergy is less likely to be accurately diagnosed. Also, the level of vaccination is not the same in India or China, and the immune systems are subject to many more types of disease.

    Your article is obnoxious. Oh, but you knew that. Stop picking on small children who have a serious medical condition and find another topic.

  • economist||

    "I have a shellfish allergy."

    You have my deepest sympathies. I can't imagine a life without shrimp, scallops and crawfish.

  • James C.||

    ABC News had a special last week about hillbillies who are addicted to Mountain Dew (among other substances). They don't have a clue that they're ruining their health and their children's health. They put Mountain Dew in baby bottles and they're toothless in their 20s. Sometimes the law does need to step in to protect people from the mass advertising budgets that convince people that they need junk food.

  • economist||

    James C.,
    That's an example of stupid/lazy parenting. I don't remember any Mountain Dew commercials saying, "This is a great substitute for Baby Formula".

    Btw, "mountain dew" used to be slang for moonshine. So, naturally, my first thought was "No shit, I'm surprised they aren't dead."

  • ru4real||

    is this all you have to complain about? GET A LIFE!!

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