A British restaurant owner was charged with manslaughter after willfully serving a peanut-allergic customer a dish that contained peanuts. It was a groundbreaking sentence, reinforcing the importance of allergy education in the restaurant industry. Here in Canada, a server faces criminal negligence charges after serving salmon tartare to a customer who made his fish allergy known to the server when ordering beef tartare. Simon-Pierre Canuel suffered an anaphylactic reaction and was in a coma for several days after ingesting the fish.
To anyone with food allergies, this is obviously terrifying. It's unbelievably difficult to trust that restaurant staff is knowledgeable when mistakes are easily made (like when Milestone's neglected to list peanuts in a salad that had never contained them previously). Human error is unavoidable. So who is to blame in this case? Is this a criminal offence?
It's difficult to say. Was there proof that the server intentionally disregarded Canuel's warnings of his allergy, or was it an innocent mistake? Whose responsibility is it to ensure the safety of those eating in restaurants?
I'm torn on the issue because as a parent to a child with food allergies, I feel like no place is truly safe for him to eat. We do take the risk quite often, but in taking that risk, I also assume the responsibility. If there's an allergen in the kitchen, there's a risk of cross-contamination at the very least, and for many, that is too deadly a chance to take. I can't fault a stranger for making a mistake, when I've made them with my own child in the past. But I certainly expect a level of education and understanding in the food industry to try an avoid these exposures. I don't want to have to avoid eating in restaurants, but I also don't feel like I can place all the responsiblity for my son's allergies on cooks and servers in most establishments. I've spent years learning about how to manage my son's allergies, and I honestly feel like no one-day training manual could really prepare workers for this level of responsibility.
My only pieces of advice for those with allergies are these: never leave your EpiPen at home, and never stop reminding people of your life-threatening allergies.