Rants, Raves, Reviews

Peanut and other food allergies - who should be responsible?

By Gary R, in , posted: 30-Apr-2007 16:43

I read with interest this article on Stuff regarding Whangaparaoa man Grant Freeman who collapsed and died after consuming a tomato entree at an Auckland cafe recently. Mr Freeman knew he was allergic to certain foods but did not know or consider that his allergies were life threatening he did however rightly inform that cafe that there were certain foods that he should avoid.

Over the last few years we have seen an increasing number of foods carrying warnings that they may contain nuts or that they were produced in an environment that also processes nuts. I can see from a manufacturers perspective that it is better to warn of the possibility of contamination even if the risk is very, very low. Unfortunately for peanut allergy sufferers it only takes a single peanut protein to induce an anaphylactic shock which in some instances can be fatal. The reason for the increase in the level of food warnings stems from a civil lawsuit that sort $10M from a Thai restaurant in Australia in 2000. The case was settled for an undisclosed sum and as a result of this settlement all manufactures scrambled to label their foods as being potentially contaminated by peanuts.

This case in Australia was a landmark in that the restaurant owner settled out of court no doubt on the advice of his/her lawyer. While the amount was never revealed it can be assumed that it was significant.

I am aware of this case because an ex girlfriend of mine was actually a friend of and dining with Richelle Townsend in 1991 at a Thai restaurant in Newtown, Sydney when the reaction happened. Richelle knew she was allergic to peanuts and advised the restaurant of her allergy. While I am sure that the restaurant took her allergy seriously the cross contamination could have happened anywhere from a contaminated chopping board, knife, cutlery, crockery, etc. Wherever it came from the reaction was so severe that Richelle was left with permanent brain damage. In 2000 my ex was summoned to Sydney to testify prior to which the out of court settlement was negotiated.

Now I see that Stuff are reporting that restaurants may be 'forced' to have on hand adrenalin injectors (or Epipens) and to introduce stricter food allergy controls. Now, I have a problem with this. Sure some restaurants do use different chopping boards for certain foods (raw chicken, vegetables, etc) but to really ensure that there is no cross contamination a restaurant would also need to quarantine areas of the kitchen and enforce much stricter hygiene standards. When a restaurant kitchen is busy you just do not necessarily have time to ensure that these additional food handling standards can be met. Also, an Epipen is not the sort of thing that should be administered without training, it is essentially adrenalin and injecting it can be hazardous to anyone who suffers from diabetes, hypertension or cardiovascular disease. Without personally knowing the allergy sufferer how can a restaurant make a judgment call on whether or not to use an Epipen? This is leaving a life saving medical decision in the hands of a person who serves or prepares food. What if the restaurant administers an Epipen and causes a heart attack? What if someone who is chocking is misdiagnosed as having an allergic reaction? Personally I believe the best approach is for the restaurant to make it clear that they can not guarantee that the food they are preparing will not be cross contaminated in the first instance it is then up to the customer to decide on whether or not they take the risk. This is no different to the approach taken by food manufacturers with prepackaged products.

I carry an Epipen because I am allergic to Bee/Wasp stings. I have been rushed to hospital twice in my life and have not suffered any long term affects. To lower the risk to myself I always wear footwear in Summer especially if I am on or near flowers and grass. I also try and avoid going places that might be inhabited by Wasp nests. Bees are not the problem they sting once and die but Wasps are very aggressive and can sting multiple times so I really try and avoid Wasps.

The reaction I suffer is no different to someone with a peanut allergy but I take full responsibility for my own allergy. Restaurants taking some sort of responsibility for food allergies would be no different to DOC having to ensure that all Wasp nests are removed before I enter a national park or keeping a helicopter on hand to rush me to hospital if I get stung. Obviously this is ridiculous and I can't expect DOC to do this so what about restaurants? Should restaurants be 'forced' to take on the responsibility for a customers food allergy and if they do accept responsibility does that not also make them liable if something goes wrong?

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Comment by sbiddle, on 30-Apr-2007 17:46

What does annoy me slightly is the inconsistances in the food standards between food manufacturers, sellers (such as supermarkets) and the likes of your local cafe.

A manufacturer needs to include full ingredient and NIP information on the product. A supermarket needs to do the same including products that are made in store. Your local cafe however is exempt from this and doesn't need to have ingredient information available which IMHO is stupid. All restaurants, cafe or takeaway bar that sell food should have to provide basic ingredient information for their products. It's not hard to do and everybody else has to do it - why should they be any different?

Comment by rscole86, on 30-Apr-2007 18:45

I agree, I do not suffer any sort of allergies etc (that I know of so far :p).

As far as I am concerned we are trying to look after people that cannot seem to look after themselves. Now i realise most people are careful and accidents happen, and thats what they are ACCIDENTS!!

Im sure there are more and more people with allergies, but do we need to pad every corner of desk becuase someone with poor eyesight might walk into it! They have hemophilia, so they bleed to death! Lets sue that company for having a sharp corner to a desk!

Comment by riahon, on 30-Apr-2007 19:11

If I had an allergy that I knew could potentially kill me then it would be my responsibility to know everything that went in my mouth - not anyone else.
I understand the recent case was not quite that clear.
I remember reading some food packaging where it said something like "This food was manufactured in factory where other products are made that contain nuts" 

Comment by sbiddle, on 30-Apr-2007 19:44

"This food was manufactured in factory where other products are made that contain nuts" 

This is quite common.

The FSANZ regulations say that you should avoid saying "may contain nuts" or words to that effect. Unfortunately for manufacturers it's not quite so simple when you're operating in a factory where nuts are handled and even the faintest trace of a cross contaimation in a product that doesn't actually contain nuts can cause an anaphylactic relaction.

Comment by inane, on 30-Apr-2007 21:22

If you run the risk of going into Anaphylactic shock, you should carry an Epipen,

An Asthmatic carries an Inhaler, someone with Diabetes will have their insulin, why is this any different?

I think you will find most resteraunts do, to some degree list what is in the food, they list the basic ingredients, often as a description  of food.

I for one do not want them to start over-regulating this sort of area, because I don't mind if the resteraunt has its own proprietary recipe's that they can't afford to have broken down to chemical compositions and copyright, unlike the manufacturers.

Maybe they could start up an Accreditation scheme where a resteraunt could choose to be rated on their Peanut safety rating?

Comment by Karla Mansfield, on 13-Oct-2007 09:35

Hi I recently ate at a cafe 10th october were I asked what was inside the panini and was told " chicken onion cheese capsicin NO WERE WAS I told satay sauce I only ate a few bites when I noticed my mouth lips tounge gums starting to tingle /itch and my breathing becoming shallow I informed the stafff and asked again what was inside and yes it was covered in satay sause I was taken to the doctor were I was given a shot of adriligin and taken to hospital by ambulance Iam lucky I didnt die and am appalled that the cafe blames me for what happened saying I didnt inform them on my peanut allergy but I did ask what was inside and according to nz food health and saftey Iam not in the wrong.

I would love some legal advise as this was my life that could have ended due to negulance in their work place.

If anyone could help or similer stories please get hold of me


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