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Vincent Iannelli, M.D.

Applebee's Gives Toddler Alcohol - Again

By April 12, 2011

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An Applebee's restaurant in Michigan reportedly served a 15-month-old child some type of alcohol containing margarita mix instead of apple juice last week.

His parents got suspicious when he started to act strangely at the table and they tasted his drink.

Although this doesn't mean that you should start tasting your child's drink every time you eat out at a restaurant, it is a good reminder that you likely should if your child refuses his favorite drink or is acting different after drinking something you didn't prepare yourself.

Surprisingly, this isn't the first time that this has happened at an Applebee's. A similar thing happened to a California toddler in 2007. At the time, Applebee's stated that pre-mixed margaritas and apple juice were kept in bottles of similar size and shape, so an employee must have grabbed the wrong one when filling the toddler's cup. A corporate representative of Applebee's assured everyone that workers 'learned a very important lesson' from the incident.

Did they?

This doesn't seem to be a common issue at Applebee's or other restaurants, but hopefully they will all learn a lesson from the incident this time. Applebee's new plan to pour apple juice from single serving containers at the table seems like an easy and juice fix.

Better yet, get your kids to drink milk when you eat out, as it seems it might be less likely to mistake milk for an alcoholic beverage.

Although Applebee's is making changes based on the incident, it is a little concerning that they seem to be actually distancing themselves from the severity of the incident in saying that 'we know that the child was served a trace amount of alcohol.' That is based on a police report showing the beverage only had 0.014% alcohol. But that test was done with a PBT or Portable Breath Tester, which is not designed to test liquids. The police tested the liquid by holding the PBT over the drink, so you wouldn't expect the results to compare to the usual concentrations of alcohol that people are more familiar with - 4 to 6% for beer and 12 to 14% for wine.

If they know they gave the toddler the wrong drink, then the real test result that they should be focusing on is the child's blood alcohol level of 0.10, which is above Michigan's DUI level of 0.08.

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April 14, 2011 at 12:55 pm
(1) Danielle at Applebee's says:

Hi Dr. Iannelli,
Thanks for your write up. I work with Applebee’s corporate and we’re definitely learning from this incident. As you mentioned, we’re changing our beverage policy nationwide and retraining our staff. We updated our website with all of the information we know at this point, so you and your readers have the information. The Madison Heights Police Department issued a field test at the restaurant and the child’s drink registered a .014. This contrasts with what’s been widely reported–that the child had a blood-alcohol content of .10 and was rushed to the hospital. According to the police report, the EMTs checked the child at the restaurant and released him. We’re extremely thankful the child was not seriously injured and we’re doing everything we can to make sure nothing like this ever happens again. Here’s the link to our updated statement: http://bit.ly/hqVtye

April 14, 2011 at 2:12 pm
(2) Vincent Iannelli, MD says:

Thank you for the response.

Can you explain what device the police used to ‘field test’ the drink at the restaurant?

In researching by post, I could not find much information about such a device.

April 14, 2011 at 5:15 pm
(3) Danielle says:

Thanks for your question, Dr. Iannelli. The police report states the officer who responded used a PBT – or portable breath test – to measure the alcoholic content of the drink. The readings stated it was .014, roughly a trace which is the equivalent of mouthwash.

April 18, 2011 at 6:30 pm
(4) RoseC says:

As a new grandmother I question why children’s juice drinks are filled from the bar of any restaurant. Shouldn’t those drinks come from the kitchen?

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