A restaurant may have liability (legal responsibility) for a customer’s allergic reaction to food the restaurant serves a customer—but only if the restaurant was negligent in some way, such as by serving a customer a food item or ingredient after the customer informed the restaurant of an allergy to that food item or ingredient.
Most restaurants seek to protect the health and safety of their customers by asking about food allergies during the food ordering process; disclosing key ingredients on the menu; and posting the warning to customers (as required by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s Food Code) that “consuming raw or undercooked meats, poultry, seafood, shellfish, or eggs may increase your risk of foodborne illness.”
Many states have also enacted laws (statutes) that require restaurants to provide warnings and disclosures to consumers. These statutes are often located in a state’s health and safety code or a similarly named code (a code is a compilation of related statutes).
Food allergies are common, with approximately one in ten adults having a food allergy. An allergic reaction occurs when a person is exposed to an allergen—often a food protein consumed while eating foods such as tree nuts, fish, peanuts (and peanut butter), shellfish, eggs, and cow’s milk.
Allergic reactions to these and other food items can range from mild irritations (swelling, itching) to potential deadly anaphylaxis with difficulty breathing, shock, vomiting, and nausea. These reactions are generally responses from a person’s immune system when it is attempting to protect the body and overreacts by producing antibodies (immunoglobulin).