A woman was hospitalised after the vegan restaurant she was eating at gave her a meal with dairy in.
Vittoria Rabito was eating at Vegandale Brewery in Toronto, Canada, on November 9 when she realised something was wrong with the vegan pulled pork taco she’d ordered.
Rabito has had a severe allergy to dairy since she was born. Although she isn’t vegan herself, she considers vegan restaurants ‘safe’ places to eat at as they market themselves as free of all animal products, including dairy.
The customer informed her server at Vegandale Brewery of her situation, and they assured her all of their products were vegan and therefore dairy-free – though they didn’t rule out the possibility of cross-contamination at the factory level.
Moments after tucking in to her meal, Rabito’s heart rate increased and her lips began to tingle. She started to have trouble breathing and decided to go to the bathroom to administer her EpiPen; something she’d had to do only once previously in her life.
Within 10 minutes of tasting the vegan pulled pork taco, Vittoria was taken in an ambulance and rushed to hospital as she suffered with the worst reaction she’d ever had.
Recalling the moment she started to suffer, Rabito told VICE:
I remember my body started shaking within seconds of taking a bite and it didn’t stop until an hour or two into being into the hospital.
When you go to a vegan restaurant and you have a dairy allergy, you’re hoping that they take [cross-contamination] seriously and that they are dairy-free. So that night I thought I was going crazy.
If you’re calling yourself a vegan restaurant, there is an assumption that the restaurant has done all of their due diligence with sourcing their product from the manufactures that their products are vegan.
If they can’t do that, they should not be calling themselves vegan.
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So much junk food (but is it?!) done SO right at @doomiestoronto and in a great atmosphere at @vegandalebrewery .. complete with 👍🏽 signs and art as you’d expect from a place that’s unapologetically vegan (but not scary or judgy). Shared tacos 🌮, pulled pork with mac n cheese on top (yeah … really! Look 👀 at that thing) and the original fried chicken sandwich with @damonvegan. All 😋 This was the brain 🧠 food we chose before a weekend of advocacy at @vegandalefestival 😆 👊. Choose wisely kids!
Over two weeks after the incident the restaurant confirmed the cause behind Rabito’s reaction, explaining in an email the ‘vegan seasoning’ on her meal may have contained traces of milk.
Vegandale Brewery added they were not aware of the possible hazard of the seasoning arriving in unlabelled packaging.
By way of apology the restaurant’s general manager offered Vittoria and her father a complimentary meal at one of their other locations, but dad Charlie said the response was ‘absolutely absurd’.
They don’t have a clue as to what could have happened to Vittoria. We could have been dealing with Vittoria’s funeral had she not acted quickly in the way that she did.
As a vegan restaurant, if you’re not able to fulfil that everything is dairy-free there should be some disclosure that they are not able to guarantee that the food is free of animal products. From a moral perspective that would be the right thing to do.
VICE report the general manager no longer works at the restaurant, and Elliot Johnson, the kitchen manager at Vegandale Brewery, admitted the way the situation had been dealt with was ‘unacceptable’.
In response to the incident Vegandale Brewery is seeking a fully vegan supplier, though the ingredients in Rabito’s vegan pulled pork tacos have not been changed.
Instead the menu has been updated to ‘provide a more fulsome allergen notice’, which makes clear the risk of production level cross-contamination.
According to a representative from Toronto Public Health, as there are ‘no specific requirements in the Food Premises Regulation for vegan restaurants’ in terms of cross-contamination, vegan restaurants have no legal obligation to disclose if their products come in contact with eggs or dairy.
Hopefully Vittoria won’t be faced with any similar situations in the future.
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Emily Brown first began delivering important news stories aged just 13, when she launched her career with a paper round. She graduated with a BA Hons in English Language in the Media from Lancaster University, and went on to become a freelance writer and blogger. Emily contributed to The Sunday Times Travel Magazine and Student Problems before becoming a journalist at UNILAD, where she works on breaking news as well as longer form features.