Mar. 08, 2024

Whether positive or negative, some conversations leave an impression on your soul.

But there are few conversations that leave their imprint more than meeting someone who lost a son or daughter.

And for the few years I have had the honor to serve in the House of Representatives, one conversation stands out in particular for me: a mother named Kathy Briden from Pittsburgh’s North Hills.

“When your child hits their 20s, you think ‘we’re in the clear, we made it, they can do, care and manage for themselves,’” Kathy told me at a recent press conference regarding food allergies and food safety. “But to lose him in his 20s? It still doesn’t make sense.”

Kathy’s son Matthew was diagnosed with a severe peanut allergy when he was 2 years old.

According to the nonprofit organization Food Allergy Research and Education (FARE), 33 million Americans live with life-threatening food allergies and a food allergy sends a patient to the emergency room every 10 seconds. In fact, food allergic reactions result in 30,000 emergency room visits, 2,000 hospitalizations and 150 deaths across the Unted States each year.

Shockingly, the prevalence of food allergies in children increased by 50% between 1997 and 2011. Between 1997 and 2008, the prevalence of peanut or tree nut allergy appears to have more than tripled in U.S. children. At this point, one in 13 children has a life-threatening food allergy and the number of new diagnoses is rising.

My family is fortunate enough that none of us suffer from a food allergy. But my children’s active social lives mean a lot of visitors and it is a common occurrence that a parent would make certain I understand what their son or daughter can eat.

But Matthew was 28 years old and knew very well what he could and could not eat. For much of his life, he routinely carried two EpiPens.

The incident occurred in 2022, shortly after Matthew, a graduate from the University of Massachusetts, returned to western Pennsylvania. He was at a restaurant on a first date and as soon as he didn’t feel well, he gave himself an EpiPen and went home.

A few hours later, still feeling ill, he gave himself another EpiPen and went to the hospital. He passed away roughly 30 minutes later.

The press conference mentioned above was to highlight legislation that I have been working on with Rep. Arvind Venkat (D-Allegheny). It very much could have made a difference for Matthew.

The legislation is House Bill 1869. It was approved 24-1 by the House Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee last month and could now be considered by the full House.

If enacted, it would require the Department of Health to create a poster about food allergies and for restaurants to display this information in food preparation areas. In addition, the bill would direct restaurants to include language on their menus that reminds customers to advise restaurant staff of their relevant food allergies.

In speaking with medical professionals, we are learning more and more about the root cause of food allergies. By knowing their origin and causes, we may then develop scientific means to avoid food allergy emergencies before they occur.

But until then, we must rely on education and information to prevent such tragedies. Having earned bipartisan attention, House Bill 1869 aims to make that information readily available.

While working on this legislation, I used FARE’s website,, where an abundance of information and resources about living with food allergies is available. If you or someone you love has food allergies, please consider reviewing their site.

Representative Natalie Mihalek
40th Legislative District
Pennsylvania House of Representatives

Media Contact: Jordan Frei
724.875.8450 /