Wausau teen inspires state allergy bills

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MADISON, Wis. (WSAW) -- A set of bills, inspired by a Wausau student, has made its way through a state committee in the Senate and was introduced to the consumer protection committee in the Assembly Thursday, promoting awareness about food allergies.

Wausau East High School junior, Carter Cygan, talked with his local state representative when he was a freshman about food allergies, helping to inspire a set of bills gaining bipartisan support.

Wausau East High School junior, Carter Cygan went to his local representative with ideas about making restaurants safer for people with food allergies.

"I have a severe allergy to nuts, so I wanted to create some legislation that would help prevent allergic reactions," he told NewsChannel 7.

"My first term in office, Carter had called me up and said he would like to meet with me and talk about food allergies," Snyder said. "Carter came to us with these ideas and then we started to do the research."

Snyder cited the Food and Drug Administration, saying "food allergies cause 30,000 emergency room visits, 2,000 hospitalizations, and 150 deaths each year in the United States..."

They also learned that between 1997 and 2007, food allergies among kids has increased by 18%.

During committee meeting, he testified to legislators, "Being told your food allergy was in your food that you just consumed is extremely sickening and very terrifying."

Currently there are laws guiding restaurants about how to handle allergies and safe food practices.

"Right now in the state, there is somebody in a restaurant that is supposed to be the one knowledgeable about the food allergies, knows what to do and then teach the staff," Snyder said.

However, testimonials and personal experiences like that of Cygan and the co-author of the bills, democratic Rep. Lisa Subeck, show other employees are not always aware of what those standards are.

"The server asked me if I could just take the nuts off," Subeck said during the meeting, "and, you know, it was clear that he didn't know. I'm not faulting that person, but it highlights the importance of a bill like this."

One bill would require restaurants and some other food vendors to place a poster in an area where employees would frequently and clearly see it. The poster would list the eight most common food allergies, sources of cross contamination, steps for employees to take when a customer or guest has a food allergy and when someone has an allergic reaction.

The other bill would require restaurants or food vendors that provide a menu to customers to include a statement on the menu saying, “Before placing your order, please inform your server if a person in your party
has a food allergy.”

The bill requiring the statement on the menu gives restaurants a year to implement, essentially allowing them to have it printed on the menu the next time they are changed out or giving them the ability to add a sticker to the menus with the statement.

He continued, "For those with food allergies it will provide assurance that their experiences at restaurants and other retail food establishments will be less uncertain."

Cygan said while testifying in the meeting was a little nerve-wracking, it was also a good experience.

"I remember back in fourth grade we went and toured that same room, so it's just kind of cool to actually speak and do something that they said that maybe you'd do in the future," Cygan said.

He continued, "The way to bring about change and to help people in the future with food allergies is to go the legislative route just because it's going to stay permanently and it's going to help people in the future."