Major food companies and restaurants need to do better when it comes to serving customers with dietary restrictions and allergies

Dear Editor:

Major food companies need to find a rigorous way to serve customers with dietary restrictions, and especially allergies. In under 20 days, I was admitted to the emergency room twice due to incorrectly made orders.

Before the pandemic, my parents would watch preparers make the orders. But now, food companies are essentially online delivery shops. However, online doesn’t absolve companies from their due diligence. It is their job to serve customers appropriately, especially those with dietary restrictions
for religious or medical reasons.

On Aug. 8, I specifically ordered a vegan drink from Starbucks – supposedly without dairy. Unfortunately, it did have dairy and after just a few sips, I suffered an anaphylactic reaction: I ended up in the emergency room and was given an EpiPen and an IV drip, all in the middle of a raging pandemic. I stayed there for several hours. The entire ordeal was completely unnecessary. But it
happened anyway.

Fast forward to Aug. 27, and this time, it was Chipotle. I had cheese in my veggie bowl, specifically requested without cheese and sour cream. Within a bite, I had déjà vu from two weeks ago. I ended up in the same emergency room.

Thirty-two million people, or roughly 10% of the country, has an allergy. Five people a day die due to an allergic reaction (according to, and 5% of people with allergies have experienced anaphylaxis (according to FARE). Food companies can – and should – do better. If more people have
awareness about such things, food services wouldn’t allow for this same mistake to happen again. We need to change.

Starbucks and Chipotle have mastered the supply chain. They have mastered the digital process. And they have mastered fast food and drinks. And yet, these two major food companies incorrectly made my order. I ended up in the emergency room. During a raging pandemic. For the second time!.

The main issue, I believe, after being a victim of an attack caused by 2 stores within 20 days, is technology. Since the majority of orders are now online, it is likelier for food preparers to make potentially fatal mistakes with orders. Although orders are flying in, companies need to maintain the rigor, integrity, and trust of the process.

There is a simple way to alleviate this: by adding a label to online orders that indicates if a customer has dietary restrictions. In this way, specially marked orders will have more awareness. But why doesn’t such clear delineation already exist on their apps and websites? Is it that hard for a food company to add a label to indicate “I have an allergy to _” on their online orders? The ordering
process needs to be more cleaner. An “allergy-free” section doesn’t exist, but should from the moment I start my order. On top of that, all food preparers should know a specific customer of an order has a dietary restriction. This can be done with color-coded cups or bowls or some sort of label.

Customers trust the companies they interact with, whether it is an electrical company, a phone company, or especially a food or medical company. Although I understand that mistakes can happen, these kinds of mistakes seem like there is a lack of attention.

Separate or color code the equipment and utensils. It’s not that expensive. This situation put me in the hospital at a rather unfortunate time.

As Mandy Hale said, “Change is painful, but nothing is more painful as staying stuck somewhere you don’t belong.”

I don’t belong in an emergency room, nor as the subject of an allergic
reaction. No person does. As a society, we’ve gone to the moon. And we are going to Mars. This is a small change. We all can do better. One small step in correcting this will create a giant leap for people like me.

Shivani Manikandan

Ms. Manikandan is a 14-year-old Princeton resident.

One Comment

  1. As an adult with food allergies, I have learned never to eat in fast food restaurants. It’s just too dangerous. If we eat out (which we haven’t done since March), we go to restaurants that do not traditionally serve my allergens (dairy and beef products). Ay least, before the lockdown, most servers in quality restaurants don’t argue with me anymore.

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