I came across an article this morning in The Mirror:
Peanut allergy man died after Indian restaurant boss repeatedly ignored warnings, court told
Apparently, a man who had a severe peanut allergy ate curry from a restaurant whose owner was repeatedly told that he could be putting his customers lives at risk by using “cheap groundnut powder” instead of almond powder. He did so to save money. The man later died. He was told by restaurant staff that his curry would be safe to eat.
Reading this made me wonder just how safe are people with food allergies? How many restaurants “switch” ingredients just to save a buck? Not to mention the poorly trained staff who have no idea what “allergen free” is, or what ingredients are in your food.
Every time we go out to eat, we are playing Russian Roulette. In the case of someone with severe food allergies, this really could be a life ending game.
Here in Tennessee, our local ballpark is having several “peanut free” nights. They stated that they are sanitizing equipment and seats, and making sure there is no way a single peanut crumb could be left. I admire the effort, I really do, but is it really possible to eliminate every trace of peanuts? I certainly hope so. If I had a peanut allergy, I’m not sure I would completely trust that I wouldn’t have a reaction. Just as I don’t trust that gluten free section of the menu to be truly gluten free.
The same goes for dairy, eggs, shellfish, soy-if the allergen “booklet” they hand to you is pages long, you can bet that there will be cross contamination somewhere. I always prepare myself for two or three days of illness whenever I go out, and I am amazed when I don’t get sick. But for someone with food allergies, such as the unfortunate man in the article, a manager who lies about what is in his food could land you six feet under.
I have encountered this same nonchalance when ordering decaf coffee in several restaurants. I have seen staff dump regular coffee into the decaf pot so they don’t have to be bothered making a fresh pot of decaf. And the result was heart palpitations and severe stomach upset. Imagine if I had a life threatening heart condition or an allergy to coffee beans? Now, it has been quite a few years since this happened, and I am hoping it is no longer the norm. But if coffee can be switched, what else can?
Then there was the gluten free quinoa salad that had wheat berries. Or the gluten free short ribs cooked in beer. I have said before, and I will say again, please train your staff, and stop lying to customers. Is it worth going to jail over? I don’t think that restaurants realize the damage that could actually be done. Not to mention the additional cost we are all paying for allergen free menu items. Where is this additional cost going, if not for higher priced allergen free ingredients?
I hope that what happened to this poor man in Britain will raise awareness of food allergies and that dining out will become a safer, and more pleasant experience for us all.