New restaurant training aims to eliminate food allergy incidents

Two years after a Sherbrooke waiter triggered a police investigation after mistakenly serving salmon tartare to a diner with a seafood allergy, a new online training program is rolling out to help restaurants identify and avoid potential problems.

Push for education comes in wake of Sherbrooke incident that triggered severe allergic reaction

Some restaurants in Quebec have adopted their own protocols for handling food allergies, but no legal standards exist. ( Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Two years after a Sherbrooke waiter triggered a police investigation after mistakenly serving salmon tartare to a diner with a seafood allergy, a new online training program is rolling out to help restaurants identify potential problems.

The program, a collaboration between Allergies Québec and the Quebec restaurant association, will be online as of March 21. It's aimed at servers, cooks and restaurant managers and has content tailored for each of those roles.

"We noticed by visiting restaurants and listening to customers who live with food allergies that there was not enough tools for the restaurants to receive those people in a secure environment," said Dominique Seigneur, spokesperson for Allergies Quebec.

"For the allergic population, it's not easy to go out in a restaurant."

Standardizing training efforts

The incident that pushed the gravity of food allergies and restaurant service into the spotlight happened at a Sherbrooke restaurant in May 2016.

A Gatineau man suffered anaphylactic shock and was left in a coma after eating what he thought was beef tartare at the restaurant. Despite claiming he warned the server about his allergy to salmon, the man said he was served salmon tartare by mistake.

As the incident gained attention, police launched an investigation and arrested the server, but ultimately no charges were filed.

A civil suit by the victim is now working its way through court.

The incident highlighted the need for more education when it comes to food allergies and dining safety, Seigneur said.

A Gatineau man launched a $490,000 civil suit against a Sherbrooke restaurant after he was mistakenly served fish instead of beef and he suffered a severe allergic reaction. (Radio-Canada)

Currently, restaurants have no legal obligation to adopt a standard protocol for handling food allergies.

However, many have taken the initiative to adopt preventive measures, including clearly marking allergens on menus or having EpiPens available for emergencies.

The online training program is aimed at providing basic framework for restaurant staff, said François Meunier of the Association des restaurateurs du Québec.

"The industry has made giant strides in accommodating people with allergies, but it has not been done in a manner as structured as we would like," he said.

There is a fee associated with the training, which will be offered through the Allergies Québec website.

An estimated 300,000 people in Quebec suffer from food allergies.

"It's people's lives. It's serious," Seigneur said.

with files from CBC Montreal's Daybreak