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Death of UNH student inspires new bill

A food allergy bill that was inspired by the death of Rachel Hunger, a University of New Hampshire (UNH) student who died after entering cardiac arrest after eating an egg roll she did not know contained peanuts, is working its way through committee.  

House Bill 1102 was inspired by constituent request and was introduced to the House on Jan. 8. HB 1102 states that all licensed restaurants, either by the state or municipality, will be required to have a staff member who has been certified in food protection management, including with food allergies, on shift at all hours of operation. It will also require restaurants to state on all menus and menu boards the customer’s obligation to inform staff of their food allergies. Should it pass, it will go into effect Jan. 1, 2021. The bill was sent to the Commerce and Consumer Affairs Committee.  

“The real thrust of the bill is to open communication between the patron and the restaurant and to make sure that the restaurant is trained to know how to respond to food allergies,” Rep. Rosemarie Rung (Hills. 21), the primary sponsor of the bill, said. “So that if they do substitute something in the kitchen, they are aware of how that would impact someone with a particular food allergy. Then when they become aware of when someone is dining with that food allergy, they know what substitutions they have to make or at least, have a conversation. So, the restaurant and the patron aren’t working in isolation, they’re working together to make sure that their dining is safe.” 

Rung started work on the bill a few months after Hunger’s death. As part of her research, she looked at how other states organized similar bills. Illinois requires posting of signs to remind patrons to talk to staff about their food allergies and California passed a bill in 2019 inspired by the death of 13-year-old Natalie Giorgi that requires all food handlers to have certification in handling allergens and preventing cross-contamination.  

HB 1102 was co-sponsored by representatives William Marsh (Carr. 8), Janice Schmidt (Hills. 28), Joseph Guthrie (Rock. 13), Cam Kenney (Straf. 6) and New Hampshire Senator Dan Feltes (D-Concord). It has received partial bipartisan support.  

“I am very proud to have co-sponsored this bill, especially now, when so many people have written to us after it was introduced,” Rep. Schmidt wrote in an email. “People experience all kinds of allergies and if a simple training to increase awareness can help save lives then we need to do this. Perhaps we should have done this a long time ago.” 

Hunger’s parents have testified on behalf of the bill.  According to Rung, current changes to the bill that have been discussed in a hearing on Feb. 4 have included renaming it to Rachel’s Law and removing section three, which would have allowed for the creation of a program for restaurants to apply for allergen-friendly designation, with standards for this designation being set in coordination with the New Hampshire Lodging and Restaurant Association along with the Food Allergy and Anaphylactic Network. Section three was removed out of concern that the Department of Health and Human Services would not have the resources to cover it. 

Rung is optimistic that the bill will clear the House and with a strong advocate in Dan Feltes, will clear the Senate as well. She says the bill passed committee vote 16-4. HB 1102 is scheduled on the NH General Court website’s calendar to have another hearing on Feb. 11 and is due out of committee on March 5.  

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