Should it be mandatory for all Toronto restaurants to carry EpiPens?

Should it be mandatory for Toronto restaurants to carry EpiPens?

“A gentlemen and his son came into the restaurant and ordered a Thai dish. The son was allergic to peanuts and, after taking a bite, was unable to breath. I froze. I was so scared, but the father had an EpiPen and gave it to him right away. Afterwards, the father yelled at me fiercely in front of the entire restaurant and caused a huge scene. I stood there bawling my eyes out until a woman at a table next to us stood up and told the father that Thai dishes are peanut-based sauces and that he should be more educated on foods that could cause harm to his son. I will never forget that moment.”  

This incident occurred 7 years ago, but former Casey’s server Laurie Hatswell still remembers it like it was yesterday. A terrifying ordeal for any waiter to experience, it bodes the question: If the motion to make EpiPens mandatory in all Toronto restaurants passed, would it solve this type of problem? 

I chatted with a couple of people in both the restaurant industry and the allergy community to see what their thoughts were. I heard excellent arguments both for and against mandatory EpiPens in TO restaurants, and I have to say I’m still on the fence! See what they have to say and decide for yourself.

(If you agree with the motion, why not contact your local City Councillor and let them know? Visit the Canada Food Allergy website to learn more.)

Restaurant Industry Perspective

✔ FOR – Robert Chee, Owner of Aviv

I am for it. I think it will pass because saving a life really matters obviously, but it’s also an extension to our community and the service we provide in restaurants and hospitality venues.

We are already very careful with any food issues. We let our guests know about the existing menu items, and that we would take all precautions to accommodate the allergy/diet needs.

Still, if it were to pass, mandatory training would be an issue. A challenge would be to make training affordable for restaurant owners, instead of a cash grab for the city.

✘ AGAINST – Laurie Hatswell, former server at Casey’s

Wow, that’s a huge liability. I don’t think it will pass.

I say this as a former server and a bar supervisor at Casey’s in Scarborough. Our kitchen staff was well educated in cross contamination, they had colour-coded knives and cutting boards in order to not cross contaminate, and their salad bar was set up in a way that pine nuts could not fall into other containers, for example.

I worry that people would become dependent on restaurants to have EpiPens on hand. But keep in mind that it’s medication, so it would have to be kept in the back office, locked up. I can only imagine an allergic reaction happening on a crazy Friday night—and trying to find a manager on duty, then going to the back office, finding the key, unlocking the lock, then administering the EpiPen. What a huge responsibility for the server or manager in what would be a very stressful situation! And what if they didn’t do it properly?

This would also be a great cost to small, family-owned restaurants, especially considering EpiPens expire and need to be replaced.

All this said, I think restaurants should make more of an effort when it comes to menu items that may cause an allergic reaction. For example, they could include symbols beside each food that contains top allergens, staff could be better informed and could verify with customers that certain ingredients are okay. Kitchen staff at all restaurants be educated on cross contamination.


? ON THE FENCE – Allison Venditti (allergy support group founder)

At first glance, I can say that I don’t think it is enough to just have an EpiPen on site. The City would need to make it accessible, provide training, and support restaurants with the cost of supplying them.

I think they will have difficulty passing the motion as is. I think the sentiment is right but you need to have buy-in from all the key players and I don’t know if everyone is on board at this time. Also, there are still so many unknowns in the proposal: training, policies, procedures, costs, etc.

While reviewing the motion (and yes, you should read it too), I read that it may be “worthwhile to investigate if the mandatory provision for Epinephrine AutoInjectors in restaurants and public facilities would enhance the safety of residents and visitors to our City.”

My children’s allergies are 100% my responsibility. Not a restaurant’s. And I would never put the restaurant or my child in a situation where I did not have their life-saving medication with me. Period.

✔ FOR – Pauline Osena (food allergy advocate & Writer)

I’m always pleased when issues and events provide opportunities to increase awareness and understanding of food allergies. This shows that City Councillors respect the food allergy community and understand that food allergies are a Public Health issue, and this motion may also open the door for other food allergy related motions.

I can’t think of why it wouldn’t pass. Stocking epinephrine comes at a very small financial cost with minimal liabilities for businesses, so I can’t imagine why there would be a pushback. Legislation like this would add to the many wonderful qualities that set Toronto apart from other big cities.

This would make dining safer for the general public. Food allergies can be developed at any time, and allergies that some may consider to be mild can unexpectedly cause a serious or life-threatening reaction. Stocking epinephrine at all restaurants could be helpful in many situations, especially because timing is so important when it comes to anaphylaxis.

In an ideal world, we would have easy access to full ingredient lists with cross-contamination labelling at all restaurants. And it would be great if chefs and kitchen staff received standardized food allergy training with certification (similar to a driver’s license), so that customers could feel confident that the person handling their order and cooking their food understood how to minimize cross-contamination.

What do you think?
Are you for or against the motion to make it mandatory for all Toronto restaurants to carry EpiPens? Share your thoughts in the comments below!


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