Unwanted Dollop Of Peanut Butter Sparks A Food Allergy Debate

June 8, 2016

The family of a six-year-old girl is suing over a grilled cheese that came with some unexpected peanut butter inside. The problem for the girl, of course, is that she has a pretty serious peanut allergy. She's okay, but had to go to the hospital. The family says a similar incident happened at the Panera in Wayland less than a month later as well. 

For its part, Panera has released a statement which says —

"Panera takes the issue of food allergens, including the reported incident at our franchise bakery-cafe, very seriously. We have procedures in place across the company to minimize exposure and risk for our guests and associates. We do not comment on pending litigation."

But for many people, these issues raise a lot of questions: should restaurants be doing more? Is it unreasonable to ask everyone to make accommodations for a few? What about the people who fake allergies just because they don't want certain foods? 

Paul Antico (@paulantico) is a father of five kids, three of whom have food allergies. He encountered issues with finding a place that can accommodate his children’s dietary needs. He created AllergyEats (@allergyeats)— an online guide to allergy-friendly restaurants across the country. Antico finds that the responsibility lies with both the parent and the restaurant. Parents need to be upfront with the restaurants and letting them know the severity of the allergy. If the restaurants grant the request of the families, or individual with the allergy, they need to be trained and follow procedures and protocols. 

Neil Swidey (@neilswidey) covered this story and others on food allergies for The Boston Globe. He finds that people who fake allergies cause problems for those who actually have an allergy. People usually fake allergies at restaurants so that they can get the special treatment that they want. This is popular among those who want to avoid gluten. Swidey added, “the more we can make sure the people who actually have the life-threatening allergies (and their families) can be the only ones using that card, the more the restaurants can focus on just those people for whom this really matters.” As a society, Swidey feels that we should call out people who fake their allergies. It actually has a negative impact on the restaurant staff, and the customers.

When someone takes an order, they are not sure who is telling the truth about their allergy. Should restaurants do a cross-examination? Antico acknowledges that it would slow the pace of the restaurant down, however the restaurant should be able to verify if the person is telling the truth. “ I think it’s okay to say, where’s your epipen, epinephrine device, or benadryl,” Anitco says, “If you have a life-threatening food allergy, you should have your epinephrine anyway. And if you don’t, then you’re putting the restaurant at stake, even if they make a minor mistake.” 

Swidey’s article on the Panera Bread situation received more than 200 comments from readers. “Just make your own grilled cheese sandwiches. Not exactly a difficult culinary exercise,” one reader commented. This is the kind of attitude that reaches beyond restaurants when parents and others have to accommodate those with allergies when they carry snacks around them. As a parent, Antico feels the best way to deal with those comments is to hope that everyone does the right thing. Parents can also approach it on a person-to-person basis. If the parent doesn’t ‘bark orders,’ they are likely to be well-received.


WGBH News is supported by:
Back to top