Food allergies are deadly serious. That was the tragic lesson learned when a bartender swapped out coconut cream in a Piña Colada for dairy cream. When an 18-year-old unsuspecting teen, who was vacationing in Spain, took a sip of the drink unknowing that it was made with cow's milk cream, which he was deathly allergic to, he fell immediately ill. The teen, who was set to attend Clare College at Cambridge University to study medicine, later died, according to the news report.

Shiv Mistry was studying to become a doctor, and reportedly “fell to the floor” after sampling a piña colada his friend was drinking when out with friends in the Costa del Sol in July, according to a news report. He went into anaphylactic shock, with his friends, medics, and police were unable to revive him. It's just the most recent tragedy related to dairy allergy and a case of someone eating or drinking something that they assumed was safe and dairy-free.

The headmaster of the Royal Grammar School where Shiv attended, Philip Wayne tweeted before his memorial, “Shiv was a wonderful lad — kind, caring, humorous and very able. He had a place at Cambridge to study medicine. What a fine doctor he would have made.”

Shiv’s father, Judgish Mistry, said there should be more education given to young people about anaphylaxis, as they are inexperienced and going out on their own. The friends and others around Shiv tried to save him by performing CPR but there was no Epi-Pen available, according to reports. "Schools should give medical training to anyone who has a friend that suffers from a life-threatening allergy,” said Mr. Mistry. The family is raising money for Anaphylaxis UK to promote awareness, and so far over $12,775 has been donated on the GoFundMe page set up by his uncle.

Dairy Allergy and Awareness

Whether dealing with a nut allergy, dairy allergy, or another serious food allergy, the biggest threat to the allergic person is that other people won't take it seriously. Mothers of young toddlers who have been diagnosed with dairy allergies have made it a point to notify teachers and other parents, and flights now routinely announce they are "nut-free," but once that child is grown up enough to travel through the world unguarded, he or she has to be vigilant. One problem is in how to convey the seriousness of their food allergy to others, such as waiters and servers, and hope that people in the service industries and others take it to heart.

Otherwise, more deaths will occur. Shiv's tragic death wasn't the first, and likely won't be the last from a similar situation where the person believed it was safe to consume food or drink. So the question becomes: How do you let people know that when you say you are allergic to dairy, nuts, or other foods, you mean it?

Food Allergies and Deadly Mistakes

"Something similar almost happened to me," one woman commented on the Instagram post about the tragic death in Spain. "I'm deathly allergic to nuts and someone made me a cocktail with Bailey's in it not realizing at my young drinking age that there could be nut products in liquor."

"Cooks and bartenders DONT UNDERSTAND [sic] how serious this swapping for milk is to us ... they had me living in the toilet for a whole weekend after sneaking milk in my "waterbased" smoothie. Almost lost my bowels," wrote another commenter.

"This is so tragic. We work hard to educate people on food allergies. Until everyone takes this seriously things like this will keep happening. If you are in the food or drink service please always keep this in mind."

Mom Dies After Eating "Vegan" Wrap

In another similarly tragic case, a woman who ordered a "vegan" wrap at Pret a Manger died after eating it, her family reported. The tragedy took place when a mother of five, on a shopping trip in Bath England, ordered a wrap that was supposed to be made with vegan non-dairy yogurt, but which was later found to contain traces of dairy protein.

Celia Marsh, 42, a nurse from Wiltshire, England, collapsed in front of her husband and three of her daughters during a winter shopping trip to Bath in Dec. 2017, according to The Guardian. She knew she was deathly allergic to dairy and avoided it religiously, checking labels of everything she ate, after having a scare several months prior, her husband said.

As they walked down the street after lunch, Marsh began to have trouble breathing, using her asthma inhaler several times. Her husband said she should use her Epi-Pen, but she said she thought it was just the cold air making it hard to breathe. Moments later, Celia told her husband she needed an ambulance. By the time the medics arrived, she was lying on the sidewalk. They took her to the hospital but were unable to reverse the reaction. Marsh died before her husband could get to her side. Pret A Manger was charged with food safety violations in the wake of Marsh’s death, but the case was ultimately dropped due to lack of evidence.

What's the Difference Between a Lactose Intolerance and Milk Allergy?

Milk allergy is not the same as lactose intolerance according to experts. Between 30 and 50 million people in the United States are lactose intolerant, to different degrees. Studies suggest that about 1 to 2 percent of children have experienced a milk allergy, which most youngsters ultimately outgrow, according to the doctors at Meanwhile, milk allergy is more common in boys than girls.

Allergy symptoms are triggered when the body's immune system perceives dairy ingredients to be dangerous invaders and it's as if you are asthmatic since your breathing can tighten, your mouth swells, your throat closes, and your lungs can't get the air they need. On the other hand, being lactose intolerant, your digestive system lacks the enzyme to digest lactose (called lactase) so your small intestine gets bloated when bacteria try to break down the milk product and release gas that causes pain or discomfort.

Milk contains both casein and whey, with casein being the solid part and whey making up the liquid part. Both casein and whey can show up in other types of foods, and for anyone with a dairy allergy, it's important to know where dairy can show up, such as baked goods, mayonnaise, and even granola bars.

Dairy Allergies Can Be Deadly

For anyone with a milk allergy, symptoms* can be swift and life-threatening, such as:

  • Stomach pain
  • Nausea
  • Skin rash/hives
  • Swelling of lips or throat
  • Trouble breathing
  • Vomiting
  • Fainting
  • Low blood pressure


For those with intolerance, the symptoms are usually digestive and can be painful but not deadly, such as stomach pain, bloating gas, diarrhea, or constipation.

To get diagnosed you can try a breath test, which involves drinking milk and blowing up balloon-like bags until doctors can measure whether you have hydrogen in your airway, which indicates you are intolerant and bacteria are working hard to digest the lactose in your small intestine. A blood test can measure antibodies to milk proteins, and a skin prick test can show whether being exposed to dairy causes an allergic reaction.

Bottom Line: If You Are Allergic to Dairy, Vigilance is Needed

Until others learn that milk allergy is not the same as lactose intolerant, this life and death situation is something the person must be aware of in the most mundane circumstances. Even reading labels or trusting a server that there is "no milk" in a drink or sandwich is not enough. You have to be aware of everything you are putting into your body. Carrying an Epi-Pen is one way to treat anaphylactic shock, but the best defense is to be on the offense.

For more plant-based happenings, visit The Beet's News articles

The 12 Best Non-Dairy Coffee Creamers For That Real Cream Taste

More From The Beet