Middletown Teen Inspired Bill To Make Restaurants Safer

Danielle Mongeau of Middletown contacted Senator Louis DiPalma to request sponsorship of a food allergy bill. The legislation unanimously passed the Senate yesterday afternoon.

A Middletown teenager’s personal experiences with food allergies inspired legislation that may soon make Rhode Island restaurants safer for individuals with food allergies.

The bill (2012-S 2127Aaa), which Sen. Louis P. DiPalma submitted at the request of Danielle Mongeau, a LaSalle Academy junior, is modeled after a Massachusetts law that went into effect last year. The bill unanimously passed the Senate late yesterday afternoon. 

“We have been facing this issue for a very long time and I want to do something to make it a little easier for everyone in Rhode Island who experiences food allergies,” said Mongeau in her initial correspondence DiPalma in December of last year.

Mongeau is allergic to tree nuts, while her 14-year-old sister, Lauren, is allergic to a wide range of ingredients including: dairy, eggs, red meat, mustard, bananas, sesame seeds and other foods. Lauren, who is a freshman at Prout School, has suffered anaphylactic shock, a life-threatening allergic reaction at restaurants several times.

The bill includes three new requirements for all Rhode Island food-service establishments.

It would require a food protection manager on staff who is trained and certified in food-allergy awareness.  The training would be available available online.

In addition to training, food allergy-awareness posters would be required in staff areas. Restaurants would be required to post a notice on menus and menu boards which requests the customer disclose any food allergies before ordering a meal.

DiPalma said the bill establishes a mutual responsibility on the diner and the food establishment.

Mongeau said that when she was around eight years old, her sister ordered juice and she ordered milk at a restaurant, which were served in opaque children cups.  The server mixed up the two drinks, and her sister went into anaphylactic shock.

“It was a stupid mistake, but she ended up in the hospital,” said Mongeau.  “Hopefully with the bill, restaurants will be more careful with that.”  

Mongeau said the bill was more about awareness rather than enforcement. She said that she understands that many restaurants may be apprehensive to serve a diner with severe food allergies, but with education and awareness, she hopes that food establishments become more comfortable.  

“I know restaurants do get scared,” she said.  “They don’t want someone getting rushed away in an ambulance.”

Mongeau said her mother will typically pack a meal for her sister because there are so few restaurants that can prepare the food.  Out of seven times her mother did not pack food, her sister was rushed to the hospital five times. 

“Usually we would rather have a restaurant say that they don’t feel comfortable,” said Mongeau.  “Not every restaurant is going to be able to accommodate every food allergy.”

Senator DiPalma said he believes the legislation would be good for the restaurant industry, because it would better enable restaurant staff to safely serve customers with allergies, and make it possible for people with allergies who might currently avoid dining out to do so more often.

Jody Sullivan, Executive Director of the Newport Chamber of Commerce said she applauds Senator DiPalma’s leadership to address the serious concern of food allergies, and hopes measures are taken to avoid unintended consequences to local businesses.  

“If legislation is put in place the Chamber would hope that the restaurant and other food service industries would be consulted to ensure that there are not unintended consequences and/or unreasonable burdens and expenses placed on businesses,” said the Director.

The bill will now advance to the House of Representatives, where Rep. J. Russell Jackson (D-Dist. 73, Newport, Middletown) has  introduced a companion bill (2012-H 7595).


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