Another Death, Another Lawsuit, When Will They Learn?

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No doubt you’ve seen the headlines for the latest lawsuit filed on behalf of a family who lost a son to an allergic reaction. There are all kinds of thoughts and feelings when a parent like me reads a story like this. My strongest response to this one?

I hope they get millions.

Perhaps that sounds harsh and a little bit like a gold digger. Believe me when I say this is not my intent. I’ve written about my fair share of food allergy losses throughout the past several months, but it’s not something I prefer to dwell on. I do it to help raise awareness of food allergies and to educate as many people as I can about this growing medical issue.

Food Allergy Losses, Another Lawsuit, When Will They Learn

I wouldn’t call myself a litigious person. In fact, it’s never occurred to me to even joke about suing someone in any circumstance. But it has become clear to me, as we’ve seen more press dedicated to the losses in the food allergy community, that something is amiss. There is a huge disconnect between the food industry and the very real needs of millions of its consumers.

As consumers, we don’t ask for clear labeling of allergens just for the fun of it or to cost corporations money in label redesign and printing costs. We don’t call manufacturers for clarification of what “Processed in a facility with nuts and eggs” means just to cost them money in employing a number of customer service representatives to field our calls. We don’t spend our time crowd-sourcing what we’ve learned about various companies and their manufacturing practices just because we have unlimited hours to spend online talking with others about allergies.

We do it all for the life of our loved ones.

How was the Wood family to know that a cookie – with absolutely no signage or notification noting the presence of walnuts – would be the death of Landon? There was no way they could know. This, by the way, would have been a huge violation of the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act (FALCPA), if it had been packaged by the bakery in a container. The law states that:

FALCPA is an amendment to the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act and requires that the label of a food that contains an ingredient that is or contains protein from a “major food allergen ” declare the presence of the allergen in the manner described by the law.

FALCPA identifies eight foods or food groups as the major food allergens. They are milk, eggs, fish (e.g., bass, flounder, cod), Crustacean shellfish (e.g., crab, lobster, shrimp), tree nuts (e.g., almonds, walnuts, pecans), peanuts, wheat, and soybeans.

Here’s a fun caveat to the labeling law, serving as a prime example of how the labeling laws don’t do much to help create a strong safety net for allergic individuals:

FALCPA’s labeling requirements extend to retail and food-service establishments that package, label, and offer products for human consumption. However, FALCPA’s labeling requirements do not apply to foods that are placed in a wrapper or container in response to a consumer’s order – such as the paper or box used to provide a sandwich ordered by a consumer.

History has shown that large corporations will keep doing what works for them (i.e., what’s cheapest) until they get hit where it hurts: their bottom line. If Publix is hit hard enough through this lawsuit, perhaps their C-Suite, along with the heads of major food suppliers will sit up and take notice. And make a change for the good and safety of millions of their consumers.

It is important to note that stories like Landon’s are why many of our allergists have come to recommend using our auto injectors as the first line of defense when an allergen has been ingested. Get to know your auto injector and know what to do in case of an emergency. If your allergist has not given you an emergency action plan, take this downloadable pdf to your next appointment and walk through it step by step with your doctor. Having a written action plan takes the guesswork out of a stressful situation and guides you in moments of doubt and questioning.

My very best wishes to the Wood family; no amount of money will ease the pain of losing a child. I pray that their endeavors to effect change in the food industry are successful. What a legacy that would be.

Tiffany Self

Tiffany Self is a wife, mom to "Z", and a lover of words. In an ironic twist, she is an English class dropout who now writes for a living. Tiffany is a freelancer in the Chicago suburbs by way of Seattle and Southern Oregon. She writes about her journey of parenting a child with multiple severe food allergies, asthma, and environmental allergies. You can follow her on Twitter or Instagram.

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