Nicole Arpiarian was stirred to try to change Massachusetts law by a conversation she had following the incident that she says almost killed her then-12-year-old son at a restaurant.
The Sudbury mother was talking to a woman investigating how her son, Tripp Hollister, was served a pastry filled with peanut butter despite having told the server about the boy's peanut allergy.
"She said she sees these accidents too often and nothing will change unless the law changes," Arpiarian said.
Arpiarian shared her story of the severe anaphylaxis reaction in 2018 that landed Hollister in a hospital with lawmakers Wednesday and pressed the Joint Committee on Public Health to again advance legislation that would update food allergy training materials and require restaurants to always have someone who has used the updated materials present during food service hours. Her son joined her Wednesday.
"We had told the waitress of my peanut allergy and she wrote it down. But due to a misunderstanding by the restaurant staff, I was given a food that would have killed me if my parents were not prepared with an EpiPen," Hollister told the committee. "By supporting bills S 1338 and H 2183, you will help people with allergies feel safe when they're dining out."
Filed by Sen. Cynthia Creem and Rep. Carmine Gentile, the bills would require the Department of Public Health certification for food protection managers to use an updated interactive video that is approved or accredited by certain national groups and that features the most up-to-date list of allergens labeled under the Food Allergy Label Consumer Protection Act. Restaurants would be required to have at least one employee who has watched the video as part of a food protection manager course on duty whenever food is being served.
Creem and Gentile said the idea of the legislation is to build upon a 2009 law that required restaurants to post food allergy information in kitchens and put a line on menus telling customers to inform their server of any allergies. That same law also required that standard food service courses include a food allergy video.
"This legislation builds on the existing rules to help protect people like this young man who can follow all the rules but still get hurt or die because their server did not have someone with expertise in allergies to help coordinate service," Gentile said.
Jason Linde, senior vice president for advocacy at Food Allergy Research and Education, said there are more than 711,000 Massachusetts residents who have potentially life-threatening food allergies, including more than 100,000 under the age of 18. He noted that the Bay State's food allergy cohort is larger than the combined populations of Boston and Revere.
Linde said the bill filed by Creem and Gentile "is a common sense solution that offers a win-win outcome for food allergy families and restaurants."
Linde said that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control found that the rate of children with food allergies has more than doubled over the last 20 years and has tripled for children with peanut or tree nut allergies.
"There are more and more children with food allergies, and it isn't fair that they're not able to go out to eat with their families like those who don't have food allergy," Creem said.