According to the Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE) organization, over 200,000 people in the US require emergency medical treatment due to allergic reactions to food every year. More than 40% of children and 50% of adults with food allergies have suffered a severe allergic reaction, such as anaphylaxis.
- What is a Food Allergy?
- Federal and State Laws and Regulations on Food Allergens
- Where Can Food Allergy Reactions Occur?
- Common Causes of Food Allergic Reactions
- Food Allergy Injuries
- Filing a Food Allergy Claim
- Filing a Food Allergy Lawsuit
- Managing Food Allergies
- Discuss Your Food Allergy Case with an Experienced Personal Injury Lawyer
Major food allergens include eggs, milk, peanut, tree nuts, fish, wheat, soy, crustacean, and shellfish. FARE estimates that 32 million Americans are allergic to these eight major food allergens, including 5.6 million children under 18.
Companies, institutions, and businesses that produce, handle, and serve food must adhere to Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulations that prevent food allergy reactions. Failure to do so can result in an allergic reaction, which can sometimes be fatal.
Did you or a loved one suffer a food allergy reaction due to mislabeled food or the negligence of a school or restaurant? You could hold the negligent party liable in a personal injury claim. The skilled personal attorneys at Rosenfeld Injury Lawyers can help you file a legal claim or a food allergy lawsuit to recover compensation for your damages.
Contact our food poisoning lawyers at (888) 424-5757 for a free consultation to learn more about your legal options.
What is a Food Allergy?
A food allergy exists when a food produces a harmful reaction in a person. An allergic reaction is an immune response to a substance that is harmless to others, wherein the immune system attacks proteins in the offending substance. A person can be allergic to more than one food. According to FARE, the most common food allergens are:
- Tree nuts
Food allergies are different from food intolerance. When a person is intolerant to a specific food, they have difficulty digesting it and may have an unpleasant reaction to it, although less severe than an allergic food reaction. For instance, lactose intolerance usually produces gastric discomfort but is not potentially life-threatening and may not require medication.
Symptoms of a Food Allergic Reaction
Food allergy reactions range from mild to severe. They usually appear between a few minutes to two hours after eating the food allergen. Common food allergy signs and symptoms include:
- Tingling or twitching sensation in the mouth
- Hives, itching, or eczema
- Wheezing, difficulty breathing, nasal congestion
- Abdominal pain
- Nausea or vomiting
- Dizziness, lightheadedness, loss of consciousness
Some people develop serious food allergy reactions, such as anaphylactic shock or anaphylaxis. This reaction is life-threatening and requires immediate medical attention:
Signs and symptoms of anaphylaxis include:
- Constriction of the airways
- Shock with a severe blood pressure drop
- A swollen throat that makes breathing difficult
- Rapid pulse
- Dizziness, lightheadedness, loss of consciousness
Emergency treatment is crucial for a serious allergic reaction to prevent coma or death.
Food Allergy Treatment
A mild food allergic reaction usually requires a prescription or over-the-counter antihistamines. These medications can relieve itching, hives, and other symptoms.
On the other hand, a severe allergic reaction may need an emergency injection of epinephrine and treatment at an emergency room. People with severe food allergies usually carry epinephrine autoinjectors (e.g., EpiPen) if they accidentally consume an offending food.
Doctors can help children and adults rule out potential food allergies in several ways, including:
- Blood Tests: A blood test can measure the allergy-related antibody immunoglobulin E (IgE) and your immune system’s response to specific foods.
- Skin Test: In this test, a doctor places suspected allergens on the skin on the forearm or back, then pricks the skin to allow a small amount of the food to enter the skin’s surface. A raised bump or an adverse reaction on the skin signifies a food allergy.
- Elimination Diet: This process involves eliminating potential allergens from the diet for two weeks and then adding each food at a time. It can help determine an allergy if you experience a reaction after reintroducing a particular food to your diet.
Federal and State Laws and Regulations on Food Allergens
The FDA established the “Current Good Manufacturing Practice, Hazard Analysis, and Risk-Based Preventive Controls for Human Food” rule (CGMP & PC rule, 21 CFR part 117) to prevent allergen cross-contamination during manufacturing and to handle packaged foods. It also prevents the release of products with undeclared allergens into the market.
The CGMP & PC applies to establishments that manufacture, process, pack, or store human food. The FDA conducts inspections on these establishments to determine if a food facility has minimized allergen cross-contamination and has proper protocols for food allergen labeling.
FDA Food Code
The FDA Food Code provides food safety and protection guidance in retail and food service establishments. It is updated and published every four years.
The latest Food Code, published in 2017, states that a person in charge must demonstrate knowledge of the food allergens regulated by the FDA and the symptoms of an allergic reaction.
It also specifies that retail and food service managers must be aware of food allergen ingredients and labeling, how to avoid cross-contamination, and the potential for accidental allergic reactions.
Several states have additional restaurant regulations and requirements regarding food allergy reaction prevention.
Furthermore, the Food Allergen Labeling Consumer Protection Act (FALCPA) requires mandatory labels on all foods that contain milk, eggs, fish, shellfish, tree nuts, wheat, peanut, and soybeans.
Where Can Food Allergy Reactions Occur?
Aside from home, a person can experience a food allergic reaction in or at:
Schools or Daycares
Usually, children with food allergies cannot avoid allergens without parental guidance or adult supervision. Students risk severe reactions if the school does not have proper allergy management policies.
In 2013, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published the first national comprehensive guidelines for food allergy management in schools. Priority areas include:
- Ensuring daily management of food allergies in individual children
- Preparing for food allergy emergencies
- Providing professional development on food allergies for staff members
- Educating children and guardians about food allergies
- Creating and maintaining a safe and healthy learning environment
Children with known food allergies should receive special lunches void of allergens. Furthermore, teachers and other staff members must know what to do when an allergic reaction occurs in a student. Similar prevention measures should apply to food intolerances. For instance, children with lactose intolerance should receive alternatives to regular milk during lunch or recess.
Food service establishments must follow FDA regulations on avoiding allergen cross-contamination. Restaurant workers should also receive proper education and training on common food allergies, including what to do if a guest suffers a reaction. Service staff, in particular, should be knowledgeable about each dish’s ingredients to provide appropriate warnings to guests who ask about allergens.
In the kitchen, cooks and chefs must follow proper cross-contamination prevention practices, such as using separate cutting boards for known allergens.
Hospitals and Nursing Homes
It is standard practice to ask each patient about food allergies upon admission. In doing so, hospital workers can avoid serving offending foods to patients and potentially causing a reaction. Failure to do so may be considered medical malpractice.
Similarly, dietary and food service departments must practice food preparation and handling industry standards. Special meals for patients with food allergies must not come in contact with regular meals. Proper labeling is also crucial to avoid mixing up patients’ meals.
Like other food service establishments, modes of transport that serve meals aboard (cruise ships, airplanes, trains, etc.) must follow proper food handling practices to prevent passenger reactions. Selections should include alternative options for individuals allergic to certain foods.
Common Causes of Food Allergic Reactions
Food allergy claims and lawsuits usually stem from the following:
Mislabeling or Failure to Warn
People with food allergies rely on labels to avoid allergens on packaged food. Food labels must include an allergen warning separate from the list of ingredients.
The FALCPA requires all food companies to warn consumers of potential allergens. If a food manufacturer fails to include an allergen on the label and causes an injury to a consumer, the company could face a lawsuit for failure to warn.
Poor Manufacturing Processes
Food manufacturers must follow the CGMP & PC rules to prevent cross-contamination of allergens. Deficiencies in the manufacturing, handling, storage, and transport of food could allow allergens to transfer from one product to another.
Inadequate Staff Training in Restaurants
Restaurant owners are responsible for training and educating staff on common food allergies and protocols in case of an allergic food reaction. Unfortunately, not all restaurants uphold the standards stated in the Food Code.
Improper food handling is a common cause of reactions in restaurant settings. For instance, a line cook that uses the same cutting board for peanuts and lettuce could cause injury to a guest with a peanut allergy.
Similarly, a service staff member that fails to inform a guest of allergens when asked could put that person at risk of a severe reaction.
Improper Food Service Practices in Schools and Healthcare Facilities
Schools, daycares, hospitals, and nursing homes must follow state and federal guidelines on procuring, storing, preparing, handling, and serving food. These guidelines include preventive measures for food allergy reactions, such as cross-contamination prevention and special meal preparation.
These establishments must ensure that food served to vulnerable individuals (i.e., children and patients) are safe and healthy. Unfortunately, inadequacies often occur, resulting in injuries and sometimes death. Like restaurants, common causes of food reactions in schools and healthcare facilities include improper handling and poor food allergy education.
Food Allergy Injuries
In mild cases, an allergic reaction may lead to minor signs and symptoms that go away easily with antihistamines. For some people, food allergies can cause severe injuries and death.
You could experience anaphylactic shock after eating an allergen if you have a severe food allergy. It can occur within seconds or minutes after consuming the food. The immune system releases chemicals that can send you into shock, causing the blood airways to narrow and your blood pressure to drop.
Food allergy anaphylaxis can cause coma, hypoxic brain injury, or even death when left untreated. According to the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, allergy-related deaths are most common in people with tree nut and peanut allergies.
Food allergy anaphylaxis can also cause dizziness, lightheadedness, and loss of consciousness, potentially leading to other physical injuries, such as broken bones, cuts, bruises, and head trauma.
Filing a Food Allergy Claim
According to FARE, food allergy-related insurance claims rose to 377% in almost every US state from 2007 to 2016. Peanut allergies are the most common cause of claims.
“The data shows food allergies are having real consequences for families and individuals as they seek medical care for their disease, including management and emergency treatment,” said FARE CEO Lisa Gable.
Did you or a loved one suffer an allergic reaction due to the negligence of a restaurant, school, hospital, or food manufacturer? If so, you could hold the negligent party liable for your injuries through a personal injury claim.
Responsible parties may include:
- Food companies
- Restaurant staff members and owners
- Hospital personnel
- Food workers or staff members on planes, trains, cruise ships, etc.
- Kitchen workers in nursing homes and other healthcare facilities
- School administrators, cafeteria workers
To file a claim, you must prove that:
- You suffered an allergic reaction
- The reaction was caused by food served or eaten
- The defendant was negligent in their handling, storing, or serving of food; failed to provide adequate warnings of allergens, or intentionally tampered with the food
- The defendant’s negligence caused the adverse reaction to the food
- The food allergy reaction caused physical injuries and damage
How to Recover Compensation
You could file a personal injury claim against the negligent party with the help of a law firm. During this process, you must provide evidence to prove that the defendant’s actions (or inaction) caused a harmful reaction to the food. Possible forms of evidence include:
- Hospital records
- Photos of served food
- Photos of food allergy injuries (rashes, swelling)
- Surveillance footage in the hospital, school, restaurant, etc.
- Receipts of food purchased
- Diagnosis of known food allergies
- Food packaging lacking proper warning labels
After you file a claim, the defendant’s insurance company may offer you a settlement. Note that initial offers are rarely fair regarding personal injury claims. A food allergy lawyer can help you negotiate a better settlement to ensure you receive fair compensation for your injuries.
Working with an experienced personal injury attorney can help you recover maximum compensation for the following:
- Medical Bills: Your out-of-pocket expenses for medical treatment, including emergency transportation, medication, hospitalization, epinephrine injections, etc.
- Pain and Suffering: Physical and emotional harm caused by the reaction, including physical pain, emotional trauma, mental distress, etc.
- Lost Wages: Salary, wages, and benefits lost due to the allergic food reaction or caring for an affected loved one.
- Wrongful Death: Funeral and burial costs, pre-death medical treatment, loss of consortium, and other death-related damages if your loved one dies from a food allergy.
- Punitive Damages: Additional compensation awarded to punish negligent parties for egregious behavior or gross negligence.
- Missed School: Possible compensation for cases involving children with food allergies that suffer a reaction and miss school, potentially impacting their education.
Your personal injury lawyer will determine the potential value of your claim during your initial consultation.
Factors That Can Affect Food Allergy Compensation
A food allergy settlement may depend on the following factors:
- Victim’s Age: Juries and insurance companies may award higher settlements in cases involving children with food allergies, as children are more prone to significant health effects of a reaction.
- Extent of Injuries: Settlements are generally higher for more severe, long-lasting, and traumatic injuries.
- Extent of Damages: You may receive a higher settlement if you incur more financial damages, such as medical expenses, lost wages, etc.
- Claim Stage: Settlement offers are generally lower in the initial claim stages. Insurance companies may be more willing to offer higher amounts the closer you file a lawsuit.
Filing a Food Allergy Lawsuit
Food allergy lawsuits are uncommon since most claims end in settlements. However, a suit may be necessary if:
- The defendant refuses to take responsibility for your injuries.
- The insurance company refuses to make a fair offer.
- Negotiations have stalled.
Filing a food allergy lawsuit could take more time, effort, and money. Our personal injury lawyers will help you explore your legal options to determine the best way to recover compensation.
Managing Food Allergies
No matter how careful you are, there is always a risk of suffering a reaction when eating outside your home. If you or your child are allergic to a particular food, remember to:
- Keep an epinephrine injection on your person or bag in case of a severe allergy
- Ask servers about potential allergens when dining at restaurants
- Inform medical personnel of your food allergies
- Inform school staff members of your child’s food allergies and intolerances
- Read warning labels on all packaged foods
- Go to the hospital immediately if you suffer a moderate to severe reaction
Talk to your doctor about allergy tests if you have risk factors for certain food allergies
Discuss Your Food Allergy Case with an Experienced Personal Injury Lawyer
Food allergies are common across the US. Some people have mild reactions to certain foods, but a reaction can be life-threatening for others. Hence, restaurants, manufacturers, schools, and other establishments that handle and serve food must implement proper food safety practices.
Unfortunately, some establishments fall short of this duty, causing harm to others. If you or a loved one suffered a reaction due to someone else’s negligence, you have the right to pursue damages. The food allergy lawyers at Rosenfeld Injury Lawyers, LLC, can help you seek fair financial compensation for your injuries and other damages.
Free Legal Consultation
Contact our personal injury law firm at (888) 424-5757 or use the contact form for a free consultation. All confidential or sensitive information you share with our food allergy lawyers will remain private under an attorney-client relationship.
Our food allergy law firm handles all accepted cases on a contingency fee basis. You don’t have to pay for our legal services unless we win your case.