A Useless Law: Pretending to Help People with Allergies

It is far from unusual for governments to pass ineffective legislation.  Regulations that purport to protect but in reality make no one safer are all too common at every level of government. But just because many governments enact useless laws is no reason why Montgomery County should not be held accountable for only pretending to help people with allergies.

According to Montgomery County’s website, “On November 1, 2016, the Montgomery County Council, sitting as the Board of Health, went a step further [beyond state law] and enacted Bill 33-16, Eating and Drinking Establishments – Food Allergen Awareness Training.  Effective July 1, 2017, Bill 33-16 requires all ‘Eating and Drinking Establishments’, which are required to be under the immediate control of a certified food service manager, to have on the premises at all times when food is being prepared or served, an employee who has completed a food allergen awareness training course and passed a test as required by this Regulation to protect the health of county residents.  A trained employee with a valid certification must be on the premise at all times when food is being prepared or served in order to meet compliance.”

“How does one certified person make someone with allergies any safer?” asks a restaurant owner from Wheaton. “If I have ten servers and five cooks, how does having one of them certified after taking an online course help anyone?”

The restaurateur continued. “This law adds an entire layer of liability for the restaurant with no benefit whatsoever to the customer. Do I need to get extra insurance now? What if someone is allergic to shrimp but tastes his wife’s soup which contains shrimp? Why should I be more liable for that because now there is a presumption of some level of extra safety? This is a law that exists just to give someone to blame, and why should that be the business? What about personal responsibility?”

There are only a few online courses that the county deems acceptable for this certification. None of those courses are given in languages other than English and Spanish, which is likely a difficulty for many of the county’s excellent ethnic restaurants that hail from all around the globe.

Essentially, Bill 33-16 provides false comfort to a person with allergies, becomes an administrative hassle to restaurants when scheduling their employees, and adds a very real cost to both employees or employers… all while doing no one any good, except maybe the councilmembers who can now falsely brag about improving publish health and safety.

How many similarly useless laws offer no benefit but do increase costs and hassles?  How many other silly laws prove Montgomery County’s anti-business, nanny-state reputation is sometimes deserved? And how many more businesses could Montgomery County attract by saying no to senseless regulations designed only to provide the appearance of action rather than achieve any real result?

Of course it is critical that people with allergies are not served food that contains the ingredients that will cause them to break out in hives or even stop breathing. But having one cook or server certified after answering correctly 75% of the questions on an online quiz after clicking through a $20 course helps no one – except the folks who pocket that cash every time Montgomery County dreams up one more way to annoy the small business owners who provide a majority of our jobs.