Nathan Anderson and friends sat down to eat after a round of golf at Samaras Lebanese and Mediterranean Restaurant in Wollongong, Australia on October 27, 2017. It would be his last meal.
The server, who was the daughter of the restaurant’s owner, assured Mr Anderson they would safely be able to accommodate his allergies to peanuts, shellfish, eggs and sesame seeds.
The Supreme Court for New South Wales heard testimony indicating the server had not passed on the full list of restrictions to the kitchen staff. Although she ensured no sesame seeds would be included in the rest of the meal, she didn’t realize that tahini, made from sesame seeds, is a principal ingredient of hummus which she served to Anderson.
After taking a few bites, Anderson described feeling discomfort to his friends and left the restaurant to retrieve his epinephrine auto-injector. He collapsed a few hundred yards from the door.
Paramedics we called but they were unable to stop the progression of anaphylaxis and Mr Anderson died.
Justice Clifton Hoeben took issue with the restaurant’s informal allergen procedures and found the staff didn’t have a proper plan for dealing with allergen and food safety management.
The server issued an emotional apology during the proceedings:
I will never be apologetic enough for the stupid mistake I made that night.
Finding out about the passing of Anderson would have to have been one of the worst and definitely the hardest moments of my life.
The court heard testimony that Mr Anderson’s friends did not call an ambulance when he first expressed discomfort and did not tell the restaurant he had suffered a reaction. An allergy expert stated that Anderson himself did not follow advice for dealing with an allergic reaction which is to stay seated and remain calm.
“Sadly,” testified the expert, “(the deceased’s) own actions (standing up, walking fast in an attempt to secure an epi-pen that he didn’t carry), aggravated the reactions’ severity.”
The restaurant was fined $105,000 AUD ($80,000 USD) and ordered to pay court costs as well as train staff in revised allergen procedures.
Our hearts go out to Mr Anderson’s family for their loss.
An individual with food allergies should be able to visit a restaurant, confer with the management, and rest assured their food restrictions will be accommodated. If that’s not possible, management should be forthright and instruct the diner to go elsewhere.
Allergen policies that safeguard diners cannot be followed on an ad hoc basis. Staff must be given clear guidelines and be trained to understand and adhere to those guidelines every time a customer with food allergies announces themselves and are accommodated.
That said, those coping with food allergies must always take two epinephrine auto-injectors along everywhere, every time, whether they intend to dine out or not. Had Mr Anderson had his auto-injectors on-hand, the tragedy that befell him may well have been averted.
We also encourage individuals with food allergies to avoid eating at establishments where their allergens of concern are used in the kitchen unless they have spoken directly with management, informed them of their allergies, and have been briefed on the procedures for ensuring the safety of their meal. Only if the customer feels confident in the response should they consider eating at the establishment, otherwise they should leave.
Please do everything you can to ensure you are not exposed to your allergens of concern and have your epinephrine on-hand in case you are.