An article appearing in the Oxford Mail last week caught our attention. A mom from Oxfordshire was quoted on social media saying:
What was supposed to be a nice treat turned into an overnight hospital stay for my three-year-old boy.
We understand cross-contamination risk but my child received a full cup of cow milk after my husband asked for oat milk three times. Absolute carelessness.
The dad had stopped in to the Costa Coffee outlet in Orchard Centre and was given the wrong beverage for his son who has a severe allergy to cow’s milk.
A Costa Coffee representative responded that the company is investigating the incident and added:
We take the safety and wellbeing of our customers extremely seriously and have strict allergy training and procedures in place to help to minimise the risk to those customers who suffer from allergens.
We would like to offer our sincere apologies to them for the distress.
We’re thankful the boy is OK and to be absolutely clear, this type of mistake should never happen. Strict policies and procedures should be in place and employees should be well trained to take extra care when a customer warns of an allergy.
Yet humans being what they are, these errors will undoubtedly occur from time to time. The question is, do you, as an allergic person or a parent of a child coping with a food allergy, truly understand the risks?
What especially caught our eye was the start of the mom’s statement: “We understand cross-contamination risk but my child received a full cup of cow milk…”, which seems to equate the quantity of allergen with the risk of anaphylaxis. Clearly, there’s a disconnect here that needs to be explained.
Understand that even a trace amount of an allergen is enough to trigger anaphylaxis, and if you have an allergy to milk, soy, peanuts, tree nuts, eggs, wheat, or any number of other allergens, you need to consider the risk of cross-contact whenever you order food or a beverage outside the home.
Think about your average coffee shop: young people are scurrying about to make your beverage among those of countless other patrons that are waiting. There are containers of cow’s milk, almond milk, and soy milk behind the counter which are often spilled or frothed in cups that are placed directly next to each other.
Meanwhile, foods containing eggs, wheat, nuts and other allergens are being prepared on the same counters and in a shared microwave. And to top it off, all of the above will likely be wiped with the same rag.
While there are certainly ways to mitigate some risk — such as by speaking to the manager, insisting on clean, recently washed utensils, and watching your order being made — it is incumbent upon you to give serious thought to the risks when pondering a quick stop at the local eatery.
The question you need to ask yourself is a simple one: is that coffee or snack really worth the risk of inadvertent exposure at this particular eatery at this particular time of day?