For people with food allergies, eating out always carries some risk, and this is no different when it comes to getting restaurant meals delivered to their home.
Menus don’t show the full ingredients list, and there is the risk of cross-contamination in the preparation, service or delivery of food.
There is also the chance that staff may not have adequate training or knowledge in how to prepare, serve or deliver food to those with a potentially life-threatening food allergy.
In one tragic case, our client Barry lost his wife of 43 years, Ruth, after she suffered an anaphylactic reaction to a café meal that she requested be dairy free.
Using a food delivery app if you have a food allergy
It’s your responsibility to inform the restaurant about any allergies.
Some food delivery apps will provide an opportunity during the online ordering process for a customer to give special instructions, including any changes to ingredients.
Customers should use this opportunity to declare a food allergy and the seriousness of the allergy.
They should also contact the restaurant directly to discuss their order and whether it can be made, as requested, free of the food they are allergic to.
Questions about food preparation and the risk of cross-contamination should be raised directly with the restaurant.
While restaurants cannot provide a guarantee a food is safe, they can share information on how it is prepared to help a person with a food allergy decide about the level of risk and what is acceptable.
What to do if something goes wrong?
If your meal has been delivered, and you think an allergen is present or you may be having a reaction, stop eating it immediately.
Inform those around you about your concerns and follow your Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy (ASCIA) Action Plan for Anaphylaxis.
While someone is managing the medical emergency, see if someone else can take photos of the food you believe triggered the reaction, and if possible, ask for a container so a sample can be kept in your freezer. This sample can later be used for testing by your state or territory health department or food authority.
You should keep a written record of any conversations you had with staff, the name of the menu item you ordered and any information you have on the incident. This can include what you informed the restaurant of at the time of ordering, and when the reaction occurred. It is also important to note what medical treatment you received and to take photos of the reaction.
After you have recovered, contact the restaurant to lodge an incident report. You can also contact Allergy & Anaphylaxis Australia for assistance with reporting the incident to the state or territory health department.
Throughout this process, remember to keep a written record of any conversations or written communications such as emails, orders and receipts.
What are my legal options if I experience an allergic reaction?
If a restaurant has been informed of a food allergy, and after consuming the food the person with the allergy suffers a reaction that causes injury or death, there may be a public liability claim.
Different food delivery apps have different policies when it comes to declaring allergies.
To protect your legal rights, it is best to declare your allergy on the food delivery app and to then speak directly to the restaurant.
Should I worry about cross-contamination?
When ordering from a food delivery service, there is a possibility of contamination while the food is en route.
Most food delivery services provide drivers with an insulated bag to transport deliveries.
If the delivery service fails to provide drivers with instructions or products to clean the bag, or if they allow the driver to use the bag to carry more than one order at a time, this introduces the potential for cross-contamination.
There is also a risk if drivers have not been trained in food handling and do not know how to handle food for people with specific dietary needs.
If cross-contamination does occur during the delivery process, you may have a legal claim against the food delivery app or the food provider.
Where can I get further information?
Allergy & Anaphylaxis Australia provide many useful resources for people living with allergies.
These include a general eating out guide, tips specific to online food ordering, and a guide to reporting a reaction.
Careful planning is required when ordering restaurant meals through a food delivery app – just like you would when you are eating out.
And always make sure you have your emergency medication with you before you eat.