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food allergies

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).

In Texas, a restaurant may be held liable for a customer's allergic reaction if the restaurant was negligent, such as by serving a food item that the customer had previously informed the restaurant they were allergic to. Texas law requires restaurants to exercise reasonable care to avoid causing harm to customers, which includes inquiring about allergies and properly informing customers about the ingredients in their dishes. Additionally, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s Food Code, which Texas adopts and enforces through its health and safety regulations, mandates that restaurants warn customers about the risks of consuming raw or undercooked foods. While Texas does not have a specific statute that addresses restaurant liability for food allergies, general negligence principles apply, and restaurants must take reasonable steps to prevent exposing customers to known allergens. Failure to do so could result in legal consequences for the restaurant if a customer suffers an allergic reaction.

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