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Peanut in Orange Juice – what next?!?

Most of us are sure that we are going to be served what we order for in a restaurant or a food can will contain what the ingredient listing claims. However, we live in a world of cross-contamination, mechanical glitches and human errors! So, food allergy sufferers should always be wary of anything that they have not prepared themselves from scratch…
Yesterday I ran into a friend whose 4 year old son has severe peanut, dairy and egg allergies and had this scary incident to relate.  The family had gone out for dinner to Cheesecake Factory. My friend had ensured that her little boy had already been fed dinner to avoid the risk of giving him something that he might be allergic to at the restaurant. Just so he did not feel completely left out, they ordered an orange juice for him.  What harm could good old OJ do apart from injecting an extra dose of immunity boosting Vitamin C into the tiny sweetheart?!?  Not so…the little one wanting to be extra affectionate to mom insisted that she take a sip of  his orange juice. Not wanting to create a scene in the restaurant, she took a small sip and suddenly felt a big solid particle in her mouth.  Imagine her horror when she spit it out on to a napkin…the particle was a big chunk of peanut!!!  That chunk would have sent her son into anaphylactic shock in seconds had he ingested it. Recovering from her shock, she asked for the waiter. The waiter was apologetic and the only way he felt he make up for it was by offering a free meal. It reminded me of an episode from ‘King of Queens’ where Doug and Carrie are offered a free week at a hotel when their house gets infested with bed bugs after a stay at that same hotel 😀
A similar incident happened to me on 3 separate occasions at Taco Bell. One would wonder why I went to the place 3 times but Taco Bell is one place which offers a huge number of choices for my son and it is one the few places he loves eating at. The particular franchise (located at  (225-227 US Highway 22, NJ 08812) that I visit has extremely poor service. Despite repeating many times what I don’t want in the taco, they have served it up with allergens and their attitude to the mistake has been, ‘what do you want me to do?’ I sent a mail to the parent company and within a couple of days got a call from the manager of the local Taco Bell. He apologized profusely and begged us to visit him again for a meal on the house. So, we decided to give them another chance but managed to get there only a fortnight later.  Here the joke was on us…the manager had got transferred and they were not able to honor their commitment 🙂
One is not sure if in Cheesecake factory the peanut was in the can it was packaged in or got cross contaminated when it was being served up. At Taco Bell, it was obviously a case of human error because the order was taken correctly but fulfilled with mistakes. Whatever the case maybe, a few valuable lessons reinforced…
1)  When ordering in a restaurant, first order clearly for the person with food allergies. Once the waiter has completed that order, the others should place their meal request.  I had noticed that the Taco Bell made mistakes whenever I ordered other things apart from what the allergy friendly meal I was ordering for my son at the same time.
2) A food allergy sufferer should always have epipen handy.
3) Always check the food before ingesting it. The more layered the food is, the more thorough the examination should be – an orange juice versus a chicken taco!
4) Food companies and restaurants should have social responsibility. I wish Taco Bell would have taken a more socially conscious approach when dealing with my complaint. The bitter truth is we cannot rely on that. A particular franchise of even the best chain of restaurants may have a few careless employees so, we have to be careful always.
Safe eating out!

8 thoughts on “Peanut in Orange Juice – what next?!?”

  1. May I add that chains are different one location to another, one location may be very cross contamination aware another may out right lie.

  2. Several years ago, we ran across a label on a carton of Minute Maid® orange juice that listed an ingredient derived from peanut in the juice! I’m so sorry to hear about this story, but I wouldn’t want anyone to even consider orange juice safe. Read every label, or ask to see the actual label at the restaurant. You never know…

  3. May I add that I never eat with my child with allergies at an Indian restaurant. And most of the time I stick to Pizza and Pasta when eating out. And make it very clear to the waiter that I am ordering for a child with severe peanut allergies.

  4. I find eating out extremely tricky. Most (well, many) just don’t understand the severity of food allergy dangers. This post was a nice reminder that you can never be careful and you should always, always, always have the Epipen with you.

  5. @ Karen: I so agree – the safety of food allergy sufferers boils down to an employee and franchise owner being more diligent. However, I do wish, corporations were a little more pro active about making food safe. Pizzeria Uno has a computer terminal at the entrance of its restaurants where patrons can checks ingredient statements of all their dishes.
    @FoodAllergyAssistant: Thanks for that piece of input. I would have never in a million years imagined that a peanut based ingredient could be there in OJ!!! What a complex food world 🙂
    @Banu: You make an excellent point that I often struggle with and one of my future blog posts will address that issue.
    @Jane Anne: You are so right and TV is one the biggest culprits. Popular serials like Big Bang Theory think nothing of making food allergy a joke!
    Thanks all for visiting my blog!

  6. I had an issue once with Bennigans in South Plainfield. After ordering a grilled-cheese sandwich, and being told they were out of white bread, they told me that they could only make my sandwich on a burger bun, since that was all they had. Since the service was a huge joke to begin with, and I was with my daughter, who was on her lunch hour from work, and time was rapidly ticking away, I agreed to the bun…as long as it was indeed just white bread, mind you. What came out was the worst presentation of a sandwich that I had even seen, and what was worse, I could tell right off the bat, that it wasn’t white bread at all. When I asked the server what type of bread it was, he went back to check, and came back and told me what I already knew – whole grain. I almost had a fit. I HAVE A FLAX SEED ALLERGY!! And, yes, I did make this genius aware of that when I aksked to be sure that they were giving me white bread. Needless to say, that if you live in the area, you know that they went out of business. Gee, I wonder why!?

  7. My FIL is a fan of CCF and always wants us to go and I repeatedly tell him my son with a severe peanut allergy cannot eat there. Finally I said “Ok, we’ll ask the manager.” The manager said there was no way he could tell me that they could safely feed my son anything – risk of cross contamination was too great given the number of allergens they use and the speed of food prep in the kitchen.” Case closed. Have to admit I never would have thought they were so sloppy that a peanut would fall in a glass of juice! I think it is unlikely it happened prior to that.

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