Food allergies, other food-related issues may fall under disability law

Severe food allergies and intolerances such as celiac disease may constitute a disability, following a settlement between the U.S. Justice Department and a Massachusetts college.

The decision, which came after a student at the college went to the government about the lack of gluten-free options at the school, may make businesses and colleges more vulnerable to lawsuits under the Americans with Disabilities Act, USA Today reports.

With colleges and universities, the issue is a complex one as many require students who live on-campus to purchase a meal plan, which may not have foods that accommodate a student’s dietary restrictions. The settlement stemmed from just such a situation, after the student notified the college but was not allowed to be exempted from the meal plan, despite being unable to eat the food.

Businesses, such as restaurants, also could be open to more legal challenges if they are informed of a customer’s dietary restriction and ignore it, causing the person to become sick, according to the Associated Press.

Under the settlement, the college will now provide gluten-free options, store gluten-free foods in an area away from foods with gluten, allow students to pre-order meals and institute food allergy training for staff, according to USA Today.

Contact or consumption with an allergic food can cause those sensitive to that item to have a severe immune response, ranging from mild hives to anaphylactic shock, a condition that entails a dangerous drop in blood pressure and can be lethal. More than 10 million people in the U.S. have a food allergy.

Those with celiac disease cannot digest gluten, which is found in wheat, barley and rye. Although there is no immune response like with food allergy, consumption of gluten can cause intestinal damage in people with celiac disease.

For more posts on food allergies from Neogen blog, click here.

For Neogen’s Food Allergen Handbook, click here.

For Neogen’s food allergen products, click here.

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