A Courtenay woman has invented a system she hopes will give allergy sufferers the freedom to eat their meals outside of the home and she's working hard to get restaurants on board.
Susan Cameron suffers from food allergies and understands the social isolation that comes from being unable to join friends for a meal in a restaurant or pub. For the last five years, she has been developing FAAST - Food Allergy Aware Systems Technology - a two-pronged approach for communicating allergies to restaurant staff and treating allergic reactions in the event of food contamination.
She officially launched the product this week.
"Every time I went to restaurants I was adamant but nobody seemed to care. So I thought, I want to do something," she said. "I decided I needed to have a system in place for the front and back of restaurants for people to deal with and handle allergies and to educate people."
FAAST is a standardized system designed to give allergic diners the confidence to eat in restaurants while helping reduce liability for establishments if one of their patrons has an allergic reaction.
Under the system, restaurants will indicate to customers through signage that FAAST is in place. Diners with allergies will present their FAAST card to the host or server, who makes note of the allergy and passes the information on to the kitchen. The card will contain information about the specific allergy and the treatment needed - Benadryl, EpiPen or a visit to the emergency room.
Eventually, Cameron hopes to introduce a swipe card method for FAAST, whereby diners hand their individualized card over the restaurant staff for scanning when they enter; that allergy information will appear on the food order when it is sent to the kitchen.
For their part, restaurants will be expected to do their best to prevent cross-contamination, though Cameron says her system is not designed to hold them legally responsible if they have taken reasonable steps. In fact, she maintains FAAST will help reduce liability by demonstrating good faith on the part of the restaurants and eliminating any questions about whether an allergy was clearly communicated to staff.
"Right now the liability in restaurants is huge. You're going in, it's a risk and the situation becomes he said, she said, and I wanted to put an end to that. There are so many people who would love to go out to eat and they can't," said Cameron.
For now, however, FAAST will rely on walletsized cards manually filled out by the owners.
Cameron said the buzz surrounding her system has been growing, with at least two major chains expressing interest. This week, she formally unveiled her system just days after receiving word that her United States patent had been awarded.
That patent applies also to the system's branding, a series of colour-coded markers that indicate the type of allergy; red for peanuts and tree nuts, blue for fish and shellfish, brown for wheat and gluten, yellow for eggs, milk and soy and green for fruits and vegetables. Cameron believes the colour-coded symbols will help children communicate their allergies if the system is adopted far and wide.
"If you have a system in place for kids - in school, or when they go shopping - kids recognize colours. So they can recognize what they are allergic to and they will know to ask," said Cameron.
At the moment, Cameron is working on the local community, convincing restaurants and allergy sufferers to give it a chance and then she'll take it from there. She was thrilled when earlier this month Health Canada's new regulations governing food labeling for allergens came into effect and she hopes that food packaging will eventually bear her colour-coded system so people can easily see which allergens are in packaged food.
For more information or to print out a FAAST card go to www.faa-s-t.com.