Steak 'N Shake Needs To Be Aware Of Milk Allergies

When you work in a restaurant and someone asks you if your “yogurt shakes, made with ‘ fruit and yogurt'” contain milk, you’d better know the answer. Many people are allergic to milk, but not to yogurt, so there’s a reason they are asking. Reader Jim sends us a letter he wrote to Steak ‘N Shake that has gone unanswered:

On a recent visit to your North Canton Belden store, I noticed you had new yogurt shakes, made with ” fruit and yogurt” Being lactose intolerant ( and as all lactose intolerant people know) frozen yogurt and yogurt is a good alternative to ice cream as it does not contain the harmful lactose present in milk. I made the comment to the waitress that I was allergic to milk and was glad to see the new product. When she brought my shake, I again asked if she was sure it had no milk in it, and she thought a minute, and said it had “this much” milk used to thin the yogurt mix. She indicated almost half the size of the container. If I wouldn’t have asked, I would have been in the hospital by evening. It happened to me before when I had ordered a yogurt shake at a Dairy Queen, and they ran out of yogurt and made it with milk without telling me. I ended up in the emergency room.

Jim continues:

You need to realize that people DO have food allergies. Yogurt advertised as yogurt is safe for people who are lactose intolerant. It is common for people with milk allergies to order yogurt as a safe alternative. You need to either change the way you advertise the shake and make people aware of the milk content, or make it with 100% yogurt as you advertise.

Also, the waitress was mad when I told her to take it back, and was reluctant to talked it off the bill. Than manager was way too busy even to speak with me. I waited 10 minutes to finally pay the bill and left. I will be more than happy to forward you a copy of the sales ticket for that day. The service in general was bad that day, and I highly doubt that we will ever go back.

Jim also points us to a recent CNN article about food allergies. The article concentrates on a new study of allergy deaths:

“We were surprised that so few people had gotten correct information about ingredients in restaurant settings, which accounted for about half of these fatal reactions,” said study author Anne Mu

oz-Furlong, founder and CEO of the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network, a nonprofit advocacy and education group. “The individuals either did not ask about ingredient information — and assumed the food was safe — or the restaurant staff gave them incorrect or incomplete information.”

Steak ‘N Shake does have accurate allergy information available on its website. Perhaps they should share the importance of this info with their employees. That way Jim can continue reading the Consumerist and avoid spending his free time in the ER. —MEGHANN MARCO

Nutritional Info [Steak ‘N Shake]
Food allergies: One bite can be deadly [CNN]
(Photo: slapjack)


Edit Your Comment

  1. BillyShears says:

    Wait, there’s lactose intolerance so severe that people send themselves to the emergency room? Count me among the many afflicted with this ailment, and do you know what I do when I think I might encounter a rogue milk-based product during the day? I slip a couple of Lactaid pills into my jacket pocket.

    Seriously, an ER? I’m not writing this guy off completely, but everyone I’ve ever known to be lactose intolerance just complains of gas and generally smelling like a water buffalo if they eat one spoonful too many of Ben & Jerry’s.

  2. fish_heads says:

    The waitress was mad? I would have accused her of trying to kill me if she’d given me crap. I’m pretty shocked that “this much” milk was used even after being told that Jim was allergic. I certainly wouldn’t have payed for any of it after treatment like that.

    Of course, plenty of airlines still serve peanuts, even though people can be so allergic that being within a few feet would cause a serious reaction. I’m not sure how they justify it, but it seems like food allergies are somehow the customer’s responsibility, despite the fact that they aren’t the ones who know how the food is prepared.

  3. BillyShears says:

    I should also that Jim is also misinformed, at least as far as the NIH is concerned:

    Among their rather dry facts, there’s a neatly organized table near the bottom that spells out the average amount of lactose found in dairy products.

    Yogurt isn’t “lactose-free”, as Jim claims.

    (Nor is lactose really “harmful” to LI people, but I propose that he added that for dramatic effect.)

  4. Matthew says:

    I’m all for proper product labeling and the like, but fast-food servers have no medical expertise, and if you have serious dietary restrictions, you’re going to want to trust your own knowledge of the subject, not rely on theirs.

  5. jurgis says:

    Some people are not lactose intolerant, but actually allergic to milk itself. They can have yogurt.

    Lactose intolerance is difficulty in processing the sugar (lactose) in milk.

    Milk allergy is a much more dramatic thing and very different. I have a close friend who occasionally is conned into eating something with milk in it (usually by people who just don’t know that something had milk in it, like cookies or something). Even after a test bite, his face will get red and he will start to wheeze and his eyes tear up.

    An ice cream cone would send him to the hospital, no joke.

  6. triple says:

    I am also lactose intolerant, but the emergency room? I had no idea.

    Perhaps the reason the milk content is not publicized is because LI actually won’t put you in the ER 99% of the time. Is it possible hes allergic to something else in the milk, because this seems too extreme for simple lactose intolerance.

    Menus are going to get really annoying really fast if they have to publish every single allergy warning – and not just milk, either. My mom is severely allergic to clams. Where are the clam notifications?

  7. jurgis says:

    NM, I was wrong about the yogurt thing… so this is kinda odd (just asked him).

  8. BillyShears says:

    People with an outright milk allergy can’t have yogurt.

  9. mewyn dyner says:


    There is a varying degree of severity of lactose intolerance. It can range from a mild upset stomach, to severe irritation, all the way to where the person suffering from it can be hospitalized.

    I’m just glad I’m one of the people who get a mild upset stomach. Most of the time I don’t even need to take lactase supplements.

  10. SpecialK says:

    Hmmm, not to blame the victim here, but if I’m deathly allergic to milk, perhaps I wouldn’t be walking into a place called STEAK AND SHAKE!!!

    What next? A peanut-allergy guy complaining that the JIFF plant didn’t give him adequate warning that their facility uses peanuts?

  11. frieze says:

    Umm…maybe I’m crazy or something but if you are actually going to a steak and shake I think the onus of making sure that they know you are allergic to milk is on you. Come on! If drinking milk can kill you and you are ordering a white beverage it might be a good idea to take some precautions. Maybe I’m just stupid or something but this seems like an obvious move to me.

  12. kevinhall says:

    There are definitely degrees of allergies to milk products. When I was a child if I so much as touched powdered milk I would break out in hives all over my body. Over the years my reaction to milk has been reduced to mild discomfort if I have too much, which is what most people think of when you mention lactose intolerance.

    We should always be aware that people can have severe, life threatening allergies to all sorts of food products so I wouldn’t dismiss Jim’s ER claims so quickly. It is very important that a restaurant’s employees be aware of ingredients and potential allergies (milk and peanuts come to mind as common ingredients that many people have problems with).

  13. Why are comments on your previous post not enabled? Is it because the irony is not lost on you?

    [You’re shunning direct contact and instructing your readers to contact you via a generic tipline. However, your regular posts often encourage readers to do the complete opposite: shun generic customer service lines and contact executives directly as a more effective way to elicit a response.]

    For the record, I have had a 100% (1/1) success rate in getting a response from your tipline, so by no means do I have a lack of confidence in your ability to handle the emails you get. Just thought your post was a little comical.

  14. acambras says:

    I noticed Dunkin Donuts had allergy information posted on its website, along with nutrition information.

    You’ll all be happy to know that the Coolatta is still crustacean-free.

  15. Maybe this is nitpicky, but it struck me that the writer used the term “harmful lactose” in his letter. As much as I believe consumers should be proactive and vocal, I also think that we should not be overly dramatic (and that extends to adjectives) in telling our story. Lactose may be harmful to HIM, but it’s not generally harmful. It’s not like there was a razor blade in the food, which would be *generally* harmful.

  16. BillyShears says:

    @kevinhall: If his reaction is life threatening – or seems like it is during the onset of symptoms, it no longer qualifies as “lactose intolerance” and graduates to straight on allergies to milk-based products, in which case he’d know to stay far, far away from yogurt as well.

    He sent himself to the ER for bad cramps and possibly the runs. Nothing a granola bar and a shot of Pepto couldn’t fix.

  17. msthe8r says:

    Lactose intolerance is different from a milk allergy. LI is caused by a deficiency in the enzyme lactase, which is needed to digest lactose (milk sugar). With out lactase, lactose stays in the intestine and ferments, causing all those lovely intestinal symptoms.

    Lactose does exist in yogurt, but the live cultures also produce lactase. It’s nature’s Lactaid.

    Milk allergy is different. It’s an inappropriate immune system response to milk protein, not milk sugar. It can cause anaphylactic shock, among other things. Yogurt isn’t safe; it still has the proteins.

    So, either Jim doesn’t understand the nature of his malady, or his LI symptoms are so bad, he’d wind up in the ER seeking painkillers. There are varying degrees of intolerance. Either way, restaurants often disregard people’s genuine, life-threatening food allergies.

  18. matt1978 says:

    Jim sounds like he needs to educate himself before he goes out. Geez, he has a severe food allergy, and he expects other people to take care of him.

  19. timetent says:

    I’ve got a severe milk allergy (not a lactose intollerance) and let me tell you, there is some wild stuff out there that has made me sick. Examples: Oreos from a grocery store are fine but Oreos from a vending machine have milk (seriously). McDonalds fries have milk. Is this info out there? Yeah but I sure wished it was more prominant before I had to reach for my epi-pen.

  20. pe_tor says:

    For those too lazy to look at the links on lactose intolerance, here’s my summary of it.

    Lactose Intolerance is just the body’s inability to produce an enzyme (lactase) that breaks down lactose into simpler sugars. Not being broken down by that enzyme, the lactose travels further down the digestive tract where it is eaten by all the lovely bacteria that live in there and they spit out lots of gas, causing discomfort, flatulence, possibly even irritating the bowels to the point of causing diarrhea.
    This is a completely unique condition separate from any lactose or other milk related allergies that may exist, and only allergies would have enough effect to send someone to the hospital. Still, at lesser severities, digestive discomfort caused by lactose allergies could seem quite similar, so confusion by Jim and perhaps some posters is understandable.
    This doesn’t change the fact that staff should be well informed about the contents of food and how they need to treat people’s inquiries about “does this have so and so in it?”. It seems to me as if every question by a customer about the contents of a food item should be treated as an allergy related inquiry, just to be on the safe side.

  21. FishingCrue says:

    Complaining about the service at Steak n Shake is like complaining about the service at Waffle House, you’re just spinning your wheels. Notwithstanding, if (heaven forbid) I were allergic to any sort of milk product I don’t think I would tempt fate and rely upon the advice of a waitress when my health swings in the balance.

  22. Jim should have asked a second time before ordering the shake. Making the comment in passing that you have an allergy may not be enough for it to register, especially if it really was busy in there that day. The waitress may not have been paying attention when you mentioned it.

    That said, this is exactly why restaurants should have nutritional information available. Jim shouldn’t have to rely on a distracted server who isn’t even preparing the food.

  23. emjsea says:

    If you are so lactose intolerant (though I find the story hard to believe), that you wind up in the emergency room, you shouldn’t be ordering something that could possibly have something like milk it. Seriously, this is their fault? When does Jim get to be responsible for his own health.

    Many employees at restaurants don’t know exactly what is in things like shakes. I think it’s pretty stupid to put your life in the hands of someone hoping they have the right information.

  24. lazyazz says:

    “Being lactose intolerant ( and as all lactose intolerant people know) frozen yogurt and yogurt is a good alternative to ice cream”

    I am lactose intolerant and never been able to eat yogurt or frozen yogurt without a reaction.

  25. kerry says:

    @msthe8r: Well put. This is what I was thinking, glad I wasn’t off the mark. I wish the letter writer would have been more careful in his use of terminology, so does he have an allergy or lactose intolerance?

  26. vanilla-fro says:

    Why would you trust a waiter/ress regarding the ingredients? do they make the food? Do you think this girl knows what is in the mix they put in the shakes? i seriously doubt it. just because they aren’t workaraunt doesn’t mean the staff knows everything.
    food allergies: don’t trust anyone about the food other than the chef (not the cook) or a manager. even then its iffy.

  27. Spider Jerusalem says:

    One time this family went out to my mom’s favorite Italian restaurant and asked if the pesto had nuts in it. The waiter assured them it didn’t, and the kid died. Now then, pesto IS pine nuts, and if you work at an upscale Italian restaurant, shouldn’t you know that?

    Confused as the man’s claims are about his intolerance/allergy/milk-hatred, stuff like this would always be in the back of my mind.

  28. castlecraver says:

    The customer didn’t ASK… Jim simply made a comment when ordering, which probably went in one ear and out the other. I’m not letting the waitress off completely, but maybe if Jim had posed the same question a little more plainly BEFORE ordering, he could have saved himself the trouble.

    This is one of my pet peeves — if you have a question about something, ASK. Don’t disguise it as a comment or observation and await confirmation or rebuttal. This sort of exchange requires far to much attention by indifferent people who aren’t really apt to pay it (wait staff being a prime example).

  29. bellhalla says:

    On the menu it is listed as a “Fruit ‘n Frozen Yogurt Milk Shake” (emphasis added). Regardless if that should have clued in Jim or not, they are probably made on the same equipment on which they make the “real” milk shakes.

    In a perfect world the waitstaff would know accurate allergy information, but in the real world (speaking as someone with food allergies), if you have a food allergy and you are not sure, don’t order it.

  30. peejaybee says:

    Maybe the server should know what’s in the product, but come on — it’s the Fruit and Frozen Yogurt MILKShake, fer cryin’ out loud. It has the word “milk” in its name! At least according to the Steak and Shake press release back in December, it does.

  31. ADM says:

    i’m not condoning what the waitress did, but i agree with the other commenters who say that if you have a serious allergy, you pretty much have to take on the onus of being very careful about what you eat, and not putting your safety in other (untrained) people’s hands.

    i have some pretty strict self-imposed dietary restrictions, and if i’m in a situation where i have to ask about something, i don’t order it. i just get something else. for instance, let’s say you’re allergic to eggs but you like italian food. you really can’t go to a place that has homemade pasta, because even if the waiter doesn’t know, they are using eggs to make most of the pasta you can get. solution: go somewhere else or don’t order the pasta. it’s never made sense to me to go through a bunch of items with the waiter and say, “does that have eggs in it? does this have eggs in it?” they really don’t know, and you’re inconveniencing them and the rest of the staff (if they have to ask), so i think it’s better for everybody if you suck it up and don’t eat things that may have something in it you don’t like.

    ps. i had heard spiderjerusalem’s pesto story before and figured it was an urban legend. it was a bertucci’s when i heard it.

  32. Canadian Impostor says:

    My girlfriend isn’t allowed to have gluten, or cheddar cheese, and it really bothers me the way she orders food at a restaurant. She says “I can’t have gluten or cheddar”, and things happen where she gets gluten or cheddar in her food.

    Whenever I interject with “She can’t have either of those because she has a serious food allergy that could kill her” we’ve never had a problem. Not to victim blame or anything, but if your food allergy is that serious play it safe and say something.

    “Does the fruit and yogurt milkshake have milk in it?” is a very different question from “Does the fruit and yogurt milkshake have milk in it, it could put me in the hospital.”

  33. pinkbunnyslippers says:

    Here’s an idea…if you’re lactose intolerant, don’t be out ordering any sort of “shakes”. Better yet, why don’t you avoid any restaurant with the word “shake” in it because you know what? I can guarantee you that no matter what a restaurant *says* is in their completely-100%-non-milk-only-yogurt-milkshake, it’s got milk in it.

    I’m not trying to rag on this guy or anything here because I’m a big proponent of full disclosure, both nutritionally and allergenically speaking, but am I being really snitty here when I say this guy needs to be his own advocate? I disagree with the way the waitress acted and the service he was given, but man…if you’ve got a food allergy it is NOT a restaurant’s responsibility to take care of YOU.

    Don’t be trusting some $3.35/hr earning waitress to understand the intricacies of your Steak ‘n Shake order’s ingredients. That’s all I’m saying.

  34. skittlbrau says:

    I don’t know about the whole hospital thing… my fiancee has wicked lactose intolerance and though he may get really, really sick, he has never gone to the hospital, even after I made him scrambled eggs and pancakes with milk in both (before he told me of his ailment, of course).

    Me thinks Jim may be using some hyperbole. If he’s not, he’s not lactose intolerant, he’s allergic to milk (which would eliminate yogurt as well).

  35. bubbaprog says:

    Consider me in the camp of those who think Jim’s a bit misinformed. He uses “milk allergy” and “lactose intolerance” so interchangeably that I’m not sure he knows there’s a difference.

    If the issue had indeed been a milk allergy, the individual should really be avoiding a place so heavily centered around milkshakes. Lactose intolerance, which a person suffering from milk allergy would never call their affliction, merely causes discomfort — and in the small amount apparently specified, would probably not even be noticed.

    I agree the restaurant didn’t exactly handle this situation very well, but that’s not an excuse to have all your facts wrong.

  36. Juancho says:

    I’m lactose intolerant and have IBS, and yes, eating something that sets either of these off has caused pain bad enough to send me to the hospital. (Granted, it’s happened maybe twice, but…)

    I’m on both sides of the fence about this. I’m very careful about what I eat, and when a fast-food place (or even a fancy restaurant) tells me something isn’t made with milk, I take it with a grain of salt. However, I’ve had enough sandwiches made with cheese that I said “no cheese, please” on to make me really angry.

  37. Buran says:

    @BillyShears: Yes. It’s not BS. And besides, that was rude to question someone’s statement about their medical health. You never, EVER assume someone’s exaggerating with something like this. Quite the opposite.

    Thumbs down.

  38. loreshdw says:

    Allergies alone might not be the whole reason for a trip to the ER. Maybe the guy is already on the edge, and the combo of allergy and other illness sends him to the hospital.

    My husband has food allergies, but not bad enough to send him to the ER on their own. His other immune-related condition (UC) combined with it will. (just imagine diarrhea and vomiting for 3 – 7 days straight)

    Another gripe: trying to ferret out MSG or disodium guanylate in food at any restaurant. Any prepackaged sauce or dressing or marinade sends my in-laws into a migraine at best, coma and blindness at worst. The servers never know, so we stick to places we research ahead of time or just order everything plain, just in case the spice shaker has a little MSG in it.

    Organic labels at the grocery store is about the only way to get safe broth or soups.

  39. reginae says:

    “You’ll all be happy to know that the Coolatta is still crustacean-free.”

    Hey, don’t laugh. A vegan’s gotta know this. =P

  40. Little Miss Moneybags says:

    As stated ad nauseum, milk allergies and lactose intolerance are two different things, and both have differences in severity that range from mild discomfort to death if not treated at an emergency room or with an epi-pen.

    My grandmother is severely allergic to milk, I am lactose intolerant. I’m also a vegetarian, and thought that I had come up with a clever way to keep meat off my food when I order it by saying, “Pretend I’m allergic, and CAN’T HAVE it”. It amazed me the amount of times that my food came out with bacon bits anyway, or had clearly had a meat patty dropped on it and then taken off (gross!). Because my food restrictions are self-imposed, I have no problem being super extra careful to ask clearly whether something has meat (including fish) in it and that it be left off. I have no problem sending something back to the kitchen if it has meat on it. I think it’s unfair to tell people with medical needs or personal preferences to go eat somewhere else because their situation might warrant some modification to the standard way a menu item is prepared.

    In this situation, I think the guy should have made the waitress understand the nature of his allergy a little more clearly and asked twice BEFORE ordering, but she should also have stopped to consider that thinning yogurt with milk is the same thing as putting milk in his shake–she clearly didn’t listen to the customer, and shouldn’t have argued with him about taking something off his bill that he didn’t consume.

  41. BillyShears says:

    I’m not sure if you’re too familiar with the menu at Steak ‘n’ Shake, but someone with a full-blown milk allergy walking into one is tantamount to a vegan expecting a decent selection at McDonald’s.

    Lactose Intolerance won’t kill you; milk allergies will. I stand by my claim that this guy is at best a drama queen, and at worst fishing for a nice, fat lawsuit. Especially since he’s had past “encounters” at Dairy Queen.

  42. Buran says:

    @BillyShears: Uhm, the OP already explained why yogurt is OK but milk is not. And I’m familiar with the menu. I know they make yogurt shakes that are described as containing yogurt.

    And by the way, anything that puts you in the ER is quite possibly serious enough to kill you if not treated.

    Why is that so hard to understand?

  43. jurgis says:

    @spiderjerusalem: That sounds like an urban legend, but I can’t fault someone too much who reads Transmetropolitan and has the Crass symbol as his icon.


  44. BillyShears says:

    @Buran: You can check yourself into the ER for a papercut, it doesn’t mean you’re going to die from it.

    The guy’s lactose intolerant, while uncomfortable it’s by no means life threatening. “Even though lactose intolerance is common, it is not a threat to good health.”

    NIH’s words, not mine. If he’s got a milk allergy, then the best that can be said about him is that he’s being grossly wreckless with his health; if he’s lactose intolerant, he needs to spend $15 and buy some OTC pills at Wal-Mart.

  45. Buran says:

    @BillyShears: So you’re taking the word of a site that has to generalize over someone who knows his medical condition as it applies to HIM?

    Most people can get stung by a bee and nothing happens beyond some pain and minor irritation. Some people go into shock and die.

    You need to realize that there are exceptions to the generalization. You’re wrong if you think otherwise.

  46. helios150 says:

    Hmm… this is funny to me. Allergens and restriction are personal responsibility. My grandmother can not just go into a resturant and order anything be cause she knows she is diabetic, and she can’t pass that responsibility to the server, my sister is LI, she takes pills for that. This guy sounds like he was fishing for an excuse to be Emo.

  47. Buran says:

    @BillyShears: Oh, so Omnipotent Billy knows the OP’s medical history, condition, and exact symptoms? Wow, how’d you manage that?

  48. BillyShears says:

    @Buran: I’m taking the word of the National Institute of Health over someone who’s about two trips to DQ away from accusing some poor 16-year-old of trying to kill him, yes.

    Read his letter.

    Now read it again.

    The guy can’t distinguish between “allergic to milk” and “lactose intolerance,” both drastically different conditions. One can potentially cause anaphylactic shock; the other causes, in the worst circumstances, a bathroom run of Biblical proportions, not unlike what happens when you go nuts with hot sauce at Taco Bell.

  49. Anonymous says:

    Yeah, this is stupid.

    If you can’t eat chicken, don’t go to Roscoe’s House of Chicken and Waffles.

    If you can’t drink milk, guess you’re gonna have to keep your oreos company with some orange juice.

    Effing deal with it. It is NOT the responsibility of a minimum-wage burger jockey to make sure you don’t order something YOU KNOW can do you serious harm.

    If something related to dairy is harmful to you, don’t effing order anything that has anything to do with dairy. That’s your own medical condition, and it’s your responsibility not to put yourself in harm’s way.

  50. major disaster says:

    @ADM: I don’t know about spiderjerusalem’s story, but the Bertucci’s verision is real. The woman’s family sued them, although I don’t remember what happened with the lawsuit (just skimming that article, it doesn’t seem to say, either).

    Generally, I agree with those who say: Restaurants should always fully disclose ingredients, but you are taking a risk every time you trust someone else, particularly minimum-wage food-service workers. If you really have a life-threatening allergy, eating at a fast-food pace (and even at many nicer restaurants, I’d say), seems like an awfully big risk, one I’d probably not take.

    By the way, for those of you who do have allergies/intolerances/miscellaneous self-imposed food restrictions, if you’re ever in the Boston area, you might want to try Blue Ginger in Wellesley. It’s Ming Tsai’s restaurant (I’ve never been there, but my parents say it’s excellent). Apparently, his son has some really severe allergy, so he’s become a strong advocate for restaurants having good systems for catering to people’s food restrictions, whatever they may be. According to an article I read, his restaurant has a sophisticated system for relaying the information from the customer to the server to the kitchen, keeping ingredients and utensils separate, etc. And the staff is supposed to be well-trained to deal with whatever issues the customer has. I’m hoping to go there next time I’m in town, just because I think it’s so great that he’s doing this.

  51. kimsama says:

    I have to side with BillyShears and most of the other posters on this one. Two things make me think he’s really playing this up. First, if you’re allergic to something and it is serious enough to actually put you in an emergency room, you need to shoulder the burden of making it perfectly clear that you can’t tolerate certain ingredients, and of trying to avoid things that may have that ingredient.

    Stating offhand that you’re happy to see a new product because you have an allergy in no way shifts the burden to the waitress. Hell, some allergies are mild, and she’s not a doctor or immunologist, so it’s not her job to interpret his comment.

    Second, he doesn’t seem to understand the difference between lactose intolerance and milk allergy. Someone with an actual milk allergy would know the difference, and would know that yogurt was not ok (my brother-in-law is severely allergic to milk proteins, and has known that yogurt is off-limits since he was 6). I’m thinking he is lactose intolerant, and while it’s not pleasant, it is not the same thing. It seems he threw milk allergy into the mix just to heighten his claim. That makes it smell fishy to me.

    Bottom line, he should have specifically asked before ordering. Because he didn’t, he got something he couldn’t consume. It’s great that they took it off his bill, but he’s being a total drama queen.

  52. BillyShears says:

    @Buran: I know this because if he had a milk allergy, he’d also have to stay away from yogurt.

    4th grade deductive reasoning, ya’ know?

  53. Nygdan says:

    Why is there so much criticism of this Jim guy? He told the waitress he was allergic to milk (of course in the letter he makes it unclear because he uses allergic and intolerate interchangeably), and she gave him something that was half milk. He then asked again, is there milk in this, and then she told him. He didn’t leave it up to someone else to take care of him, he explained the situation nicely, and then double checked.

    He certainly didn’t do anything wrong. He said he was allergic, and they gave it to him anyway. That was flat out stupid of them.

  54. Joafu says:

    @SpecialK: I totally agree with you. As a person who lives with a severe peanut allergy, I know that any food with ‘Thai’ in the title may mean an overnight stay in the ER; I don’t *assume* the safety of the food, I just don’t eat it. If he was actually concerned about his health, he wouldn’t eat fast food.

  55. Buran says:

    @BillyShears: You still don’t comprehend the term “generalization”. You still won’t admit that you don’t know the OP’s situation. I don’t care whether God himself wrote that site. IT DOES NOT APPLY TO EVERYONE. “I was wrong”. Three words that you are apparently too proud (or have your head too far up your ass) to type. You obviously can read, but you don’t know when to spout websites as absolute and when not to.

    By the way, I work at a medical school, so I know what I’m talking about.

  56. matt1978 says:

    He wrote and complained that a likely 17 year old waitress didn’t pick up on his remark that likely made her think of lactose intolerance. He’s old enough to know that he should watch out for himself, and not depend on part-time staff to do it. This is just like that razor blade in the baby bed non-story.

  57. Buran says:

    @BillyShears: The worst the guy actually did wrong was he might have gotten some terminology wrong. SO WHAT? He wound up with a SERIOUS CONDITION because of someone’s mistake, and that is a lot more troublesome than the nit you insist on picking. 4th-grade reasoning, huh? Guess there’s a reason that’s the best you can do.

  58. Joafu says:

    @BillyShears & @Buran: Um, wow?

  59. ahwannabe says:

    If waitstaff are expected to serve as dietary consultants, they ought to be paid accordingly. You want to pay somebody pennies to schlep your food from kitchen to table, you’re on your own.

  60. Joafu says:

    Ah, sorry for the double(triple?) post, but this just reminded me an appropriate McDonald’s story. After a hockey game, some of the guys went to the Golden Arches to celebrate a win or loss: A woman come storming in with her double cheese burgers with a fire in her eye. She started barking at the teen at the register for a Manager, then started screaming at him for allowing his incompetent workers to put onions on her burgers; for you see, she has an allergy to onions and she could have gotten mighty sick had she eaten them. She demanded the money she paid to be refunded, then asked for the burgers to be remade sans onions. I thought, 1) Stupid for assuming McDonalds would make her order the way she wanted it 2) Stupid for coming to a fast food joint with an allergy to onions 3) Stupid for illustrating the term ‘white trash’ so effectively. Stop being stupid consumers, it’s your job to know the risks of a product before buying; if they’re too great, bring your hard-earned dollar elsewhere.

  61. BillyShears says:

    @Buran: For someone who allegedly works at a medical school, you’re sure giving a lot of elbow room to someone who’s confusing two entirely different conditions.

  62. acambras says:

    If you can’t eat chicken, don’t go to Roscoe’s House of Chicken and Waffles.

    Ooh — tell me more about this magical-sounding place…

  63. oudemia says:

    I ask this honestly and openly, with respect to the distinction between “milk allergy” and “lactose intolerance”: is there any very SERIOUS reaction that one could have to milk but NOT have to yogurt?

  64. acambras says:

    When I worked at a fine dining restaurant, people with special dietary needs would ask me about food ingredients/preparation. IMHO, the really smart ones called ahead. Whether it was a call-ahead situation or walk-ins, I always went straight to the chef. Get the answers right from the horse’s mouth (or the horse’s ass, in that particular case).

    That said, if I had special dietary needs, I would hesitate to trust any fast food place if a slip-up meant serious illness or death.

    Interesting that there have been over 50 comments on this post. I think more than half of them have been from Billy Shears and Buran.

  65. major disaster says:


    He certainly didn’t do anything wrong. He said he was allergic, and they gave it to him anyway. That was flat out stupid of them.

    As a general rule, I hate “blame-the-victim” reasoning, but there’s a point where you have the responsibility to be your own advocate, because you’re the one who’s going to get sick or die. Looking at their website, I am actually very impressed at the detail Steak ‘N Shake goes into regarding nutrition and allergen information – they list the possible allergens for every item on their menu. This goes way beyond anything I’ve seen for most restaurants, and I think they should be commended for it.

    Indeed, as others have pointed out, the yogurt shake is in fact called a yogurt MILKshake, and lists milk as an allergen. (Not to mention, don’t all shakes inherently have milk? You need some sort of liquid to make it a shake – otherwise it’s just plain frozen yogurt, right? – and what are you going to use, other than milk?)

    If this guy really has a life-threatening allergy, it would really be in his interest to be far more proactive than just making comments about allergies, rather than asking much more pointedly about the contents of the shake, and telling the waitress, look, I could die if I eat milk.

    Yes, they do bear the responsibility of training their workers, but at some point, you have to accept the fact that a fast-food waitress is never going to be as vigilant about your allergies as you are.

  66. LAGirl says:

    my boyfriend has a severe peanut allergy. the ‘eat even one bite of peanut and he dies’ sort of allergy. so he has to be really careful when we go out to eat.

    if he can’t be 100% sure that the thing he’s ordering doesn’t have peanuts in it: then he DOESN’T order it. he’d rather err on the side of caution than drop dead.

    in this case, yeah, sounds like the waitress was an idiot, but come on, do you really want to put your health/life in the hands of a Steak ‘n Shake waitress?

  67. reflous says:

    Lactose intolerance is NOT an allergy. Lactose intolerance just means you can’t digest lactose, it doesn’t mean you have an allergic reaction to it (think anaphylactic shock).

  68. PenguinBlue says:

    If Jim has such a bad allergy that half a glass of milk can send him to the ER, he needs to be a lot less trusting when eating out. Of course, the waitress should have been smarter about it, but you can’t put your life in other people’s hands like that. Even when you order “milk-free” items (i.e. getting soy milk in your Starbucks drink), mistakes are made.

    I have a serious peanut allergy, and if I can’t be positive something won’t have peanuts in it, I order a different menu item or eat elsewhere.

  69. CyGuy says:

    A few points:

    I am lactose intolerant – yogurt has lactose, less than the same amount of milk does, but if milk can send you to the hospital – then you shouldn’t be eating more than say 6 ounces of yogurt at a time.

    My best guess is that Jim, the OP, has either Irritable Bowel Syndrome, or Crohn’s Disease. Both of these can be triggered by too much dairy. I have a friend with Crohn’s though whose treatment includes yogurt, because of the probiotic bacteria it contains helps her cope with the other things that can trigger a flare-up for her. If she has plain milk though, it could trigger a flare which could send her to the hospital. Jim, I urge you to see a gastroenterologist and be properly diagnosed.

    Lastly, I want to add that life is not all milk and cookies for the lactose intolerant, not only do I have to check labels carefully for milk based ingredients (not casein based ingredients though such as sodium caseinate – which is based on a milk protein – and therefore only of concern to those allergic to milk and to vegans), but for the addition of straight lactose as a either a sweetener or filler, including in chocolate not sold as “milk chocolate” and in OTC and prescription drugs. I have to say one of the stupidest pharmacological decisions ever made is to use lactose as a filler in some OTC diarrhea medicines, as a bad case of lactose intolerance will send you to the medicine cabinet, only to ingest even more lactose. If you are really lactose intolerant, I’m sure you have found this out the hard way. (Maybe that is how Jim ended up in the hospital?)

  70. dugn says:

    Cy’s right – but some of you might not have read the original article very closely.

    The complainer claimed to be allergic – but he said it right after he tossed in a seemingly unrelated statement regarding those who are lactose intolerant.

    Everyone who said lactose intolerance can’t put you in the hospital is right – but this guy claims he had an allergy to boot.

    In addition to what Cy said about sodium caseinate and the stupid decision to put lactose into loads of dietary supplements (dumb!), us intolerants have to watch for whey in every snack food too.

    Basically anything that has a buttery or cheesy ingredient is a no-no. In fact, the powdered versions of cheese flavoring are some of the most concentrated lactose ‘hits’ you can take (any Doritos except the unflavored plain ones are full of this ‘cheese flavor powder’). A few Doritos will make you scream “Ole Olestra!” for at least a day (

    Snack crackers, all but the most plain potato chips and certain medications are some of the ‘sneaky’ things we have to watch for besides the obvious cream cheese-covered bagel, milkshake and ice cream cones.

    The good news is that lactose enzymes are readily available to neutralize all but the most extreme lactose binges (and yes, I take my pizza with TRIPLE cheese with no after effects even though I’m one of the most lactose intolerant around).

    One bonus: Certain brands of lactose-free milk break down the lactose in such a way that 2% milk ends of being as sweet as whole – and due to the ultra pasteurization process, lasts in the fridge for almost 8 weeks.

  71. ToddMU03 says:

    Shake is short for MILK shake. Even if it says yogurt, it will have milk because a shake is more than just ice cream.

  72. SimonGodOfHairdos says:

    I don’t care whether he is lactose intolerant or has a milk allergy. Whatever his actual medical diagnosis is, his biggest problem is the fact that he would still go to Dairy Queen. DAIRY Queen. A vegetarian shouldn’t go to a place called “The Meat Barn” (a former store in my hometown), someone with celiac (gluten allergy) should avoid bakerys, and someone abstaining from milk for WHATEVER reason deserves what he gets if he patronizes the DAIRY Queen or Steak ‘n SHAKE. The word “shake” is a huge tipoff that there will be milk present, it’s used to thin out shakes! Unless you’ve personally spoken to the chef, you are not doing your job to protect yourself.

  73. gnappulicious says:


    you’d be surprised… a lot of commercial pesto in the u.s. has no nuts. some cheap bastards still have the audacity to charge a lot for it, even without the nuts! whatev. imo, make your own – it’s much better.

    but hey, just in case any milk/lactose/whatever allergy people were interested, there’s always cheese in pesto. :)

  74. GeekChicCanuck says:

    Whoa! Popular thread! As someone with several life-threatening food allergies – I can sympathize with the fear Jim probably experienced, but I also agree with many of the earlier posters that he is ultimately responsible for what enters his body.

    I’ve spent varying periods of time in 4 different countries and have traveled quite a bit and still managed to eat out with my allergies. How? Call ahead. Read web sites. Speak with the chef or owner before the restaurant gets busy.

    If I’m forced to try a place “on the fly” – my usual tactic is to ask the server to speak to someone who could discuss the contents of the food as I have life-threatening allergies. I then prepare myself to NOT eat anything if I feel the least bit uncertain. So far this has worked reasonably well – I’ve only had 2 incidents in 34 years – one was completely my fault and one was due to a Cookies by George outlet in Toronto forgetting that they cook all of their cookies (or at least, they did then) in a peanut-based oil.

  75. njtrout says:

    Food allergies are serious. Public facilities, serving food, be they restaurants, hot dog vendor etc. should disclose the ingredients of the food they prepare/serve. Long story told short, our son had a severe anaphalatic reaction to tree nuts after eating at a Macaroni Grill. They do not publish or disclose their ingredients. For the details go to “Food Allergy Survivors Together”.

    Found this on a while ago:

    We carry cards in a couple of languages and are prepared to walk out if our son can eat nothing on the menu. Better hungry than dead.


  76. kimsama says:

    Food allergies are serious, but the point here is that Jim doesn’t have a milk allergy, or else he would know that yogurt is also off-limits. Yogurt contains the milk protein that causes milk allergy, just as milk does. Anyone with a real allergy would know this.

    However, this thread is great because it’s brought to light the real consumer concern, that restaurants should post allergy information and/or accurate ingredient lists. That way, anyone with a real, life-threatening allergy could check out the food in advance and not put their life in the hands of their waitress.

  77. flyboy37 says:

    Well, I really didn’t expect such a response to my post! I’m the original poster, Jim. My allergy (or call it whatever you will) is to the lactose, which is present in milk products, and is not present in any substantial amount in yogurt. I have been treated by several physicians, 2 of which are specialists, one of which advised me to go to the ER the night I consumed a “milk” milkshake. The symptons included severe abdominal pain and shortness of breath ( which I considered sufficient to warrant a visit to the ER) Like many posters stated, everyone has different reactions. I was advised to try yogurt, which I have, and never had a reaction. Call it what you may, milk causes me issues and yogurt doesn’t. The LARGE sign hanging over our table that day at Steak and Shake said ” Fruit and Yogurt SHAKES” not milkshakes. I really should have snapped a picture of it. Anyways, I felt I was careful mentioning it when ordering, and confirming it when the shake was delivered to the table, as I always do when I’m not 100% sure.

    I’m glad to see so many people are concerned enough to write and express their concern, and relate similar stories. To those of you who are critical, say what you will, you don’t live with the problem every day like I do and do some of the posters above. Maybe I was not “medically correct”, but bottom line is I try and be careful, and if I’m not, it causes me extreme discomfort. I am going to ask my physcian to post his comments here for those who demand “medical correctness” I called him this morning and pointed him to this website.

    As far as Steak and Shake’s service, I have always had excellent service there at that location, we’ve been going there for years.
    They seem to have had a management change there since my last visit. The place was a mess, there didn’t seem to be enough help, and I almost walked out after waiting at the register for 10 minutes to pay the bill. I asked to see the manager, and was told he was busy and if I wished to wait, I sould speak with him. Needless to say, I had had enough and left.

    At least my point was made, and apparently many of you agree with me on the point of this posting, the food allergy awqareness. Thanks to all who posted!

  78. Buran says:

    @BillyShears: Because I know that people sometimes use the wrong terminology by mistake, but people don’t END UP IN THE ER BY MISTAKE. You’re basically accusing someone of LYING about LIFE AND DEATH. And you still won’t admit that your head is inverted up your you-know-what, and say “yes, some people really can wind up with life-threatening problems if they are given milk”. You keep insisting that the OP is a drama king/queen. When it’s entirely possible that they nearly DIED. All because you don’t want to admit you were wrong on the internet.

    How lame.

  79. J DTZR says:

    Reminds me of when I was a teen and worked at a McDonald’s. The store I worked at was down the street from a cardiology center (how appropriate) and at least once a week we’d get somebody whose cardiologist had told him/her to cut the sodium in their diet, so naturally, their next stop was a McDonald’s where they’d tell us they couldn’t have “the sodium” and we’d make a fresh batch of fries without sprinkling the salt on them.

    And then they’d order a Big Mac and a Coke, both of which are packed with sodium. People? Are fucking stupid.

    Bottom line: If ingesting milk/dairy/cheese whathaveyou will make you violently, painfully ill, don’t go to fast food restaurants that have built their menu around the very substance to which you are deathly allergic. Jim has no one to blame but himself.

    Also, Buran (or is it Jim?) needs to lighten up.

  80. Charmander says:

    Even if you are lactose intolerant, you may be able to eat small amounts of foods made with milk that have very little lactose in them: yogurt, some cheeses, etc.

    The key word here is: SMALL AMOUNTS. I don’t think anyone with true lactose intolerance would order a yogurt shake (what are they 16 oz, 20 oz?- that’s a lot of yogurt) expecting to have no symptoms.

    Something seems fishy about this story.

  81. beck7422 says:

    I am allergic to Corn and Soy. However, I didn’t know about either allergy until I was 26. Despite this, I would get horribly and dangerously ill the few times I was forced to eat at McDonalds (kids do get forced to go if others want to eat there).

    Even after diagnosis of the Corn and Soy food allergies, I had no idea that they were present in EACH and EVERY food dish at McDonalds. Even the fountain drink water is contaiminated from the other fountain drinks sprays.

    My point is it took several years of hard research to find out all possible food items my allergens could be in and how difficult it would be to avoid them. No waiter or waitress has ever been able to help me avoid either Corn or Soy food allergies, they are just too difficult and have too many different names.

    Even with all my research, if I eat out I run about a 75% chance or higher of having an allergic reaction to Corn or Soy. When I stay home and only buy the same *safe* foods over and over again I have about a 10% chance to have an allergic reaction to Corn or Soy.

    I take full personal responsibility each time I eat out. I know better than to fully trust any restaurant to keep me safe, when I can’t even keep me safe at home.

    Side note: Diarrhoea can be a severe allergic reaction. It is my primary dangerous food allergy reaction. It can be especially dangerous if you have almost constant Diarrhoea, because you can not avoid your allergens. It can cause Hypokalemia which is a dangerous state where you can find yourself paralyzed, not breathing, and with your heart dangerously out of rythym. Trust me. Not fun.

  82. Samby says:

    I have to second some of the comments on here in support of the OP. There *is* a difference between milk and yoghurt, and in fact, yoghurt that is fermented for long enough can be completely lactose-free. I know this for a fact because my husband has Crohn’s and can’t have lactose, and we make yoghurt at home for him.

    Whenever we go out to eat, we double and triple-check with the waiter, explain about his serious condition (he has many restrictions, not just dairy), and there are often still mistakes. The OP double-checked before he ate something, and I think that was the smart thing to do.

    My husband’s Crohn’s, by the way, is serious enough that drinking milk would make him very sick, and possibly send him to the hospital. Like others have suggested, we can’t have any idea what is going on in the OP’s body, and it is extremely presumptuous of us to doubt his medical condition without knowing *everything* about him. All of our bodies are unique, and illnesses affect different people differently. Medical sights talk about the average situation. e.g. look up information about a goitre, and all of the standard sources will say that it’s not dangerous. Tell that to the extremely small percentage of people who find out that theirs is malignant. It’s impossible to make blanket statements with regard to medical issues.

  83. Anonymous says:

    @acambras: It’s a small chain of restaurants in the L.A. area. There’s one in Hollywood, another in West LA, another in South Central (the original, I think), another in Long Beach, and one in Pasadena.

    If the opportunity to check one out presents itself, give it a shot. The food is fantastic.

  84. supportgroupleader says:

    I am writing as a food allergy expert, because one of my support group members mentioned this article.

    It’s very important to point out that the article itself is full of misinformation. Food allergies and lactose intolerance are completely unrelated health conditions.

    People who have lactose intolerance cannot digest the lactose in milk. This is usually a minor inconvenience, occasionally helped with an over-the-counter product. Many people with lactose intolerance can handle yogurt.

    People with milk allergy may die from milk present in food. ANY milk ingredient must be strictly avoided, including casein, cheese, lactalbumin, whey, yogurt, etc. Yogurt is not by any means a safe food for someone with a milk allergy.

    This statement: “It is common for people with milk allergies to order yogurt as a safe alternative.” is not only untrue, but very dangerous. Yogurt is not safe for people with a milk allergy.

    Any food that contains yogurt contains dairy, and you shouldn’t have to ask someone to know that.

  85. jennylynn says:

    I have read the comments so far and must say I am highly amused by all the so called experts that have popped up. I am also LI (as everyone so eloquently called it) and find it difficult to avoid restaurants with milk. What is so wrong with a person choosing to go for a burger at a place with milk products? The person isn’t going to order one if they can’t have them. I myself just watch what I order but I was even mislead by the frozen yogurt shake. Restaurants should not advertise as frozen yogurt when it is more milk than yogurt. When you see frozen yogurt you don’t think hey maybe I should go on a website to look up what’s in this. You assume that what is said is true. I believe it is called false advertising. FYI if you are LI don’t order a chocolate frozen yogurt and get made if you feel a bit ill. Chocolate isn’t good for you also. I believe that Jim has a valid complaint. Things should be advertised in the correct manor or the employees should be better informed. That and actually listen to the customers not just nod their heads and mindlessly go off to place an order.

  86. manager1 says:

    Dear Jim,
    I agree that all associates who work at sns should no need to know certain allergies, but i do not know of any sns without a consumer advisory right on the front door as you enter the store. It also specificly says fruit and frozen yogut milkshakes(key word Milk). it is tragic that people dont know the importance of consumer safety towards health, but it is also very difficult to know each persons own health issues. if you are allergic you should ask before instead of blaming others after all it is your body not theirs. go to and link to menu, it has a nutrition calander with specific allergies listed in the last colomn. as for the dining experience it sounded poor if the manager cant stop to take care of the one thing that is most important (the guest). apologies can only go so far and it is impossible to change the past.

  87. moonie_kat says:

    As a waitress that works at Steak ‘n Shake, I apologize for what happened. However, you have to realize that our training as waitresses doesn’t cover ingredients used in our items. Waitresses aren’t the ones working in the kitchens, and you can’t expect us to know every single detail of what goes in your food. For another thing, waitresses at Steak ‘n Shake are usually very young and paid only $2.85 an hour.

    Instead of ordering the way you did with a small sidenote about your lactose interolerance, you should have first had her check with the kitchen staff. In ordering the shake, you made it sound as if it were no big deal.

    Having also worked on the fountains before, however, be aware that all of our shakes have milk in them. The reason for this? Otherwise, they wouldn’t be shakes. Also, yogurt shakes are made with the same machines that normal milkshakes are.

  88. Slashhearted says:

    Also, I am a server at Steak N Shake. And i am going to defend all of the hard working “Fast Food Servers” out there. Just because we work in a restaurant does not mean that we are unintelligent and without class. If the gentleman told me that he was lactose intolerant, i would have suggested he got an Iced tea instead. Just to be on the safe side. Seriously, I read a comment saying that we don’t have “medical expertise”, that is true however, most of us have common sense. Thank you, Sarah ST