ANNAPOLIS — For most of his life, 12-year-old Quinn Buckley of Silver Spring has lived with a severe allergy to eggs. Living with an allergy is hard, he said.
“It limits you to doing stuff that you’ve either done before or know 100 percent that it’s safe,” he said in an email.
A bill before the Maryland General Assembly looks to raise awareness of food allergies in the state and provide the approximately 300,000 residents, like Buckley who live with food allergies, greater confidence when eating at restaurants.
“We’re helping to raise everybody’s consciousness here,” said bill sponsor Sen. Jamie B. Raskin (D-Dist. 20) of Takoma Park.
Raskin’s bill would require restaurants to ask customers to notify their server of any food allergies. It also would enable counties to establish a requirement that at least one employee at the restaurant be trained in food allergies.
As initially proposed, the bill would have mandated every restaurant in the state have a staff member trained in food allergies, but the Senate felt enabling legislation was the better route.
“Politics is the art of the possible,” said Sen. Christopher B. Shank, co-sponsor of the bill.
“Each year you try to build awareness and try to bring people along and I think this bill does that and more,” said Shank (R-Dist. 2).
Shank said his 9-year-old son lives with a severe allergy to peanuts. For both Buckley and Shank’s son, coming into contact with peanuts causes anaphylaxis, which causes the inside of a person’s throat to swell, produces an itchy rash and low blood pressure. Its onset is often quick and can be lethal.
In 2012, a Virginia girl died from an allergic attack. CNN reported the girl ate a peanut she received at school from another child who didn’t know about her allergy.
“It itches a lot,” Buckley said of when he comes into contact with eggs. “I feel panicked and scared.”
Shank was instrumental in changing state law to require schools to keep epinephrine autoinjectors, or “epi pens,” on hand should a student need a dose to counteract a severe allergic reaction.
Requiring servers at restaurants to inquire about customer allergies and enabling counties to mandate training is yet another step in the right direction, he said.
Before Buckley reached his first birthday, his mother Marianne Quinn noticed that certain foods affected him. For most of his life, he lived with allergies to not just eggs, but also soy, peanuts and tree nuts, she said. He now only lives with an allergy to eggs.
Knowing that coming into contact with eggs is dangerous for her son, Quinn said it is a challenge for her family to eat at restaurants.
“Really, the hard part is you just don’t know what you are going to run into when you go to various restaurants,” she said.
Federal regulations require food manufacturers to label the eight most common food allergy triggers — eggs, fish, shellfish, wheat, tree nuts, peanuts, soy and milk — on product labels.
However, menus at restaurants do not have to be labeled and those with allergies are forced to ask staff if allergens are present.
“The hardest response we get is ‘I don’t think so,’” Quinn said. “It’s not really giving you an answer.”
But rarely does her family walk out of a restaurant when encountering difficulty in getting accurate information.
“It’s very hard for my son to walk out of a restaurant,” she said. “He wants to feel like a normal kid who can go into a restaurant and eat.”
After spending a week in Massachusetts, where restaurant employees are trained in food allergies, Quinn said her son asked if the family could move to the Bay State because of the restaurants.
“It was really eye-opening to me how a modest amount of training could make a huge difference,” she said. “It was eye-opening to me as a parent that things can be better.”
Quinn set out to make things better in Maryland and has been lobbying to have training required in the state.
Those who do not live with food allergies or know someone who does, do not often understand how a tiny amount of food could have such serious consequences, she said.
Shank said his son had an allergic reaction at an ice cream parlor from just eating ice cream served with the same scoop that was used to serve a peanut ice cream.
Both Raskin and Shank noted that many restaurants are already taking steps to educate their employees about food allergies.
But Shank said a partnership between the public and private sectors is needed to bring along restaurants yet to embrace awareness of allergies.
While the Senate diluted Raskin’s bill to make training just a local option rather than a state mandate, the bill is in the House’s hands and the House could potentially change it further.