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Teen Inspires Food Allergy Awareness Law

February 26, 2015

By Noura Bayoumi
Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Food allergies are an unappetizing part of life for 14-year-old Claire Troy and her family. Eating out is a “hassle,” because the Troys never know whether a restaurant will be sensitive to the needs of customers who might be allergic to what is on the menu.

In November 2013, Claire, who lives in the Fairfax County town of Vienna, wanted to address the problem. She got inspired after reading an article about a Rhode Island teenager named Danielle Mongeau, who helped persuade her state to pass a law requiring restaurants to post signs about food allergens and take other steps addressing the issue.

Claire then met Danielle, who is allergic to tree nuts and whose younger sister has extensive food allergies, at the annual “teen summit” of Food Allergy Research and Education, a nonprofit group based in McLean. At that meeting, Claire decided she wanted to see a similar law in Virginia.

She then wrote to Del. Mark Keam, D-Vienna, and scheduled to meet with him in January 2014. At the meeting, Claire brought up a statistic from the National Restaurant Association: Because of food allergies, 6 million American children are not eating out for special events with family and friends – and this could be costing U.S. restaurants $900 million a year.

A law addressing the problem would help not only people with food allergies but also the restaurant business, Claire said. “This bill is a win-win.”

Shortly after the meeting, Keam agreed to sponsor the legislation and drafted House Bill 2090. Last month, Claire and her mother, Delia Troy, traveled to Richmond to testify in support of HB 2090 at a hearing held by a subcommittee of the House Committee on Health, Welfare and Institutions.

Claire’s testimony included statistics on potential benefits to restaurants if they adopted “best practices” for food allergy awareness. She also told subcommittee members about a personal experience when more than 30 friends and family members visited for her twin siblings’ First Communion.

Claire and her younger siblings all have food allergies – and as a result, she said, her parents did not think it was feasible to eat out. The Troys ended up hosting a dinner at their house.

“We would have much rather gone out to eat. That night, a restaurant lost the revenue of 30-plus people,” Claire testified.

After the subcommittee hearing, several legislators said Claire’s personal testimony was critical in influencing their decision to support Keam’s bill.

Last week, the House joined the Senate in giving final passage to HB 2090 and its Senate companion, SB 1260, sponsored by Sen. Creigh Deeds, D-Bath County. The legislation, which passed both chambers with overwhelming support, has been sent to Gov. Terry McAuliffe to be signed into law.

“I never realized how much work goes into drafting a bill,” Claire said. “It’s great to see how our hard work has paid off.”

Under the legislation, the State Board of Health would adopt regulations requiring restaurants to display information related to food allergy awareness and the risk of allergic reactions. The board also would convene a task force to make recommendations on issues related to food allergy awareness and training for restaurant employees.

“When this bill goes into full effect, Virginians who suffer from food allergies can be comforted knowing that every restaurant in the commonwealth will have staff knowledgeable about food safety issues,” Keam said.

“I want to thank my young constituent Claire Troy for coming to Richmond to testify on its behalf, as well as the Virginia Restaurant Association and Department of Health staff for working with me on this important legislation.”

At the start of the process, Claire said her mother and Keam himself doubted whether the bill would pass. After Claire’s first meeting with Keam, Delia Troy tried to lower her daughter’s expectations and said it might take several years until the bill becomes law.

But Claire always remained hopeful.

“I was always determined to see it as a law,” she said.