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Why the food industry is wary of requiring EpiPens in every restaurant

Should restaurants be required to keep an EpiPen on hand and train staff how to use them?.
Should restaurants be required to keep an EpiPen on hand and train staff how to use them?. AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, File

Restaurants are required to equip staff with proper food handling training, hair nets and cleaning supplies. One Toronto city councillor wants to add another requirement to that list: EpiPens.

A motion by Coun. James Pasternak has requested the city examine requiring that EpiPens be mandatory in the city’s “8,000 restaurants and hundreds [of] other public facilities.”

READ MORE: Quebec salmon tartare allergy case sparks Canada-wide calls for training

Customer safety is of utmost importance to businesses, said Dan Kelly, president of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB), but he cautions against staff being required to know how to administer an EpiPen to customers.

“I don’t think it’s as simple as chucking an EpiPen in a drawer in a business,” said Kelly.

Kelly worries that businesses would not only need to be sure all staff know where the EpiPen is and how to properly use it, but also when not to use it.

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“Somebody that is perhaps unable to communicate and somebody assumes they’re having a food allergy and then gives them an EpiPen — maybe that’s going to make the problem worse,” said Kelly.

“I get that these are serious issues … but this is a step too far.”

WATCH: Canadian student dies after ordering smoothie on campus; suffers severe allergic reaction

Businesses would be faced with a host of legal concern, Kelly said.

“Of course there’s the liability issues: If the business owner makes a mistake, if the EpiPen’s expired, if they give it to somebody who doesn’t need it or they do it incorrectly,” said Kelly.

EpiPens cost about $120 and expire after a year.

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The dose varies by body weight: an EpiPen contains 0.3 mg epinephrine and is intended for people over 30 kilograms; EpiPen Jr contains 0.15 mg epinephrine and is intended for people weighing between 15 and 30 kilograms.

Allergic reactions can happen out of the blue: Toronto allergist Dr. Mark Greenwald said 25 per cent of fatalities from anaphylaxis are from people who have not been previously diagnosed with allergies.

“You can’t fault those people for not having their epinephrine on them,” he said. “If you had an EpiPen on site, it could save their lives.”

WATCH: Toronto councillor tables motion looking to make EpiPens mandatory in restaurants

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Toronto councillor tables motion looking to make EpiPens mandatory in restaurants, eateries – Mar 27, 2017

Guarding against severe allergic reactions to food is a responsibility shared by patrons and restaurants, said James Rilett from Restaurants Canada. He cautions against putting too much onus on the business.

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“We’re afraid a motion like this puts that responsibility all on the restaurant,” said Rilett.

Pasternak has opened a welcome dialogue with the restaurant industry said Beatrice Povolo, director of advocacy at Food Allergy Canada, a national non-profit dedicated to helping people with food allergies.

“Opening up this conversation and having the discussion is very important,” said Povolo. “This is something we’d like to see further investigated.”

— With files from Erica Vella and Carmen Chai