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National Restaurant Association - Restaurants not required to serve allergen-free foods, Justice Department says

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Restaurants not required to serve allergen-free foods, Justice Department says

Following some confusion over the Justice Department’s stance on how the Americans with Disabilities Act applies to food-allergic customers, the Department of Justice published a Q&A last week reaffirming that the ADA does not require all restaurants to provide gluten-free or allergen-free foods.

The Justice Department, however, indicated the ADA might require restaurants to take "reasonable steps" to accommodate people with celiac disease and other food allergies, as long as the accommodation doesn't result in a “fundamental alteration” of the restaurant’s operation.

For example, it said the ADA may require restaurants to answer questions about menu ingredients and omit or substitute certain ingredients upon request if the restaurant normally does this for other guests. But, a restaurant would not be required to "alter its menu or provide different foods to meet particular dietary needs."

The agency's Q&A came in the wake of a December agreement between the Justice Department and Lesley University in Cambridge, Mass. The school agreed to provide gluten-free and allergen-free food options as part of the university’s meal plan, and take other steps to accommodate students with celiac disease and other food allergies. In this case, the meal plan was mandatory for all students living on campus. Food-allergic students filed the ADA lawsuit to force the school to modify the plan.

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