Bride’s Close Call: Wedding Caterer Oversells Nut-Free Promises

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in Managing Allergies, Peanut & Tree Nut, Your Stories
Published: September 1, 2017
Carly Berlin and Jason Lieberman on their wedding day.

Our big day almost landed me in the ER, thanks to the caterer who oversold his nut-free promises. This article first appeared in Allergic Living magazine. 

A big wedding is never easy to plan, but as a full-time student with a part-time job and a part-time internship, the many tasks required to prepare for the 300 invitees to my wedding made me feel as though I was in a pressure cooker.

Whenever I was particularly stressed, someone would try and reassure me by saying: “What’s the worst that could happen?” And when they did, despite having taken the precautions to prevent the possibility, a little voice inside me would answer: “An allergic reaction on my wedding day.”

I’ve had an anaphylactic allergy to peanuts and nuts since I was a baby. I wore a fanny pack with an epinephrine auto-injector and Benadryl in it throughout elementary school. As an adult, I always carry an auto-injector and a bottle of Benadryl in my purse. I am extremely cautious, and always have been.

When my husband-to-be and I started planning our wedding, we repeatedly reminded the caterer of my allergies. He guaranteed countless times that all the food would be nut-free except for the sweets table. This wasn’t a big deal to me because we had ordered our cake from a nut-free bakery and I could easily avoid the sweets table.

Lieberman family with their son Matthew.

Our wedding day began as a blur of happiness. I felt beautiful, I was happy. Our ceremony was meaningful and beautiful. Afterward, we rushed from the synagogues sanctuary into the bridal suite to escape for a few minutes alone, and indulged in a delicious plate of tiny Moroccan canapes made from deep-fried pastry dough stuffed with minced meat – my first meal of the day.

Immediately after I swallowed my last bite, my ears and throat began to itch, but I dismissed my symptoms to nerves and a dusty bridal suite. We walked into the reception hall and started to dance the hora while the guests cheered. As I was lifted in the air, I couldn’t shake the itchiness that I felt in my ears and throat. It was also getting harder and harder to smile.

As soon as my feet touched the ground, I ran to my mom – my “allergy guru.” She took one look at me and exclaimed: “What did you eat?”

I ran out of the dark reception hall and into a brightly lit area. My breathing was becoming difficult and I was covered in hives – the hors d’oeuvres must have contained nuts. I had visions of sirens wailing and an ambulance whisking me away, but luckily among our guests was an emergency room doctor and an emergency medical technician, who were quickly called to help.

We all met in the bridal suite. My face was puffy and I had big inflated lips. My wonderful doctor-guests took amazing care of me. A combination of a lot of Benadryl [*See Editor’s Note below] and antacids counteracted the severity of the reaction, and I eventually returned to the party.

Carly and her son Matthew.

We decided to take legal action against the caterer, who admitted to not being careful when preparing the food. The weeks and months following our wedding were spent rehashing details, scrutinizing photos, and being interrogated by insurance company lawyers who debated the legitimacy of my anaphylactic reaction. In the end, we settled and received a small amount – nowhere near the effort to get it, but a win to hopefully help the next allergic customer who chooses this caterer. I hope he thinks twice when he guarantees that something will be nut-free.

The wedding was five years ago now and, in retrospect, the signs were there. The caterer had said he had never had to “deal with” allergies to this extent and even suggested certain dishes that had nuts in them after I had explicitly explained my allergies. He never put anything in writing – even after we emailed him several times and asked for written confirmation.

My advice to the next allergic bride would be: insist on that to avoid my nerve-racking experience.

Carly Berlin and her family live in Montreal.

*Editor’s Note: Allergists would recommend administering an epinephrine auto-injector if you have symptoms affecting more than one body system, since that’s considered anaphylaxis. Epinephrine is the first-line drug for anaphylaxis. Some allergists say Benadryl (or a newer generation antihistamine) can be used as an additional medication. Ask your physician for guidance.

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