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Who's responsibility was this?

Dinner last night at a friend's house. We all brought a dish over. One guest brought a pitcher of sweet tea. It tasted a bit odd but I assumed that I just didn't like whatever artificial sweetener must have been in it and I moved on to other beverages. The woman who brought the tea didn't say anything until the end of the evening. Then she began telling us all about this wonderful natural sweetener called stevia that she used in the tea and how difficult it us to get, how little you have to use, etc.

I looked it up this morning and got pretty scared, pretty fast. It seems that it's been banned for use as a food additive (rightly or wrongly seems to be a matter of debate, but still...) in the US and the EU. It's approved as a "dietary supplement." That part was only annoying, not so scary.

What scared me is the fact that there are numerous warnings against using this sweetener if you are taking calcium channel blockers for hypertension - which the Spouse is. It seems that stevia is being researched for its medical use in combating hypertension but if you're already taking these medications consuming stevia can send your blood pressure dangerously low.

Fortunately the Spouse didn't drink much of the tea since he didn't care for the taste, either. However, I feel we got away very lucky.

Should the provider of the tea been responsible to warn us off? I'm assuming she didn't even know there was a possible interaction but since the additive isn't FDA approved, should one assume there's a good reason for that? The Spouse couldn't have known to avoid the tea since A) we didn't know it was in there and B) it wouldn't be listed in known interactions for the meds since stevia is not commercially used here.

What is anyone's (mine, the Spouse, the food provider, the host, etc.) responsibility in a situation like this?

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  1. Well, the fact is it is the responsibilty for anyone who has a dietary concern to ask what is in something and then take the risk or not.

    Many foods can have strong interactions with medications. Not dietary supplements, just plain normal unadulterated food.

    Here's a brief link:

    10 Replies
    1. re: lebelage

      I tend to agree...but this is a pretty out there scenario. If you show up with something as seemingly as innocuous as tea and put something entirely unusual in it...you should say something. This isn't like a peanut allergy where you have to approach things with the presumption that nuts and nut oils are in everything until you know otherwise: this is a rare "ingredient" in something that no one would have reason to think anything odd was in.

      So, in this case, I think some responsibility rests with both...but more so with the person who brought the tea. If you're going to do something really odd...say something about it before everyone starts eating or drinking.

      1. re: ccbweb

        I agree also.
        But she should have left the tea plain, imho.
        Whenever I offer tea, hot or iced, to my guests, I leave it plain and offer an assortment of sweeteners, both natural and artificial, for them to choose from. I would never assume that they want it sweetened.

        1. re: foodstorm

          oooo- that's such a "where you're from" thing.

          in canada iced tea is sweet. (speaking generally of course)

          1. re: excuse me miss

            Yeah...and, with iced tea, you just can't effectively sweeten it after the fact. I have no problem with sweet tea being offered...but if you're using a non-standard ingredient, mention it before you serve it.

            1. re: excuse me miss

              Really, even if you are serving people you know have "issues" (diabetes, dieting, etc.)? Where I live, bikini season is upon us and nearly everyone is dieting and serving anything sweetened with sugar would get me dirty looks, lol! But there are some people who can't abide the taste of artificial sweeteners either. So you see why I just leave it be and let them choose for themselves...

              1. re: foodstorm

                what i mean is- most if not all iced tea in canada is sweet- it's not "normal" for us to sweeten our own with whatever choice. so it might not occur to someone making it to not sweeten it. very few restaurants offer unsweetened.

                if you buy iced tea in the us- like at the corner store- is there unsweetened??

                1. re: excuse me miss

                  Yes. And most restaurants throughout the US serve unsweetened iced tea. However, most restaurants (from fast food to mid range) in the Southern states offer sweet tea as well.

                  1. re: mojoeater

                    such an interesting little cultural difference.

                    1. re: mojoeater

                      In the South tea sweetened with sugar is pretty much the standard. At most restaurants (especially the mom & pop places) if you just order "iced tea" you will get sweet tea. If you want unsweetened tea you have to specify that.

                      1. re: Sister Sue

                        I thought it was unusual to have sweetened iced tea until reading this post and realizing its common in the South. If I asked for sweet iced tea in NJ I would get Snapple.

        2. Personally, if I'm gonna be a guinea pig , I wanna know about it. I feel the provider of the tea should have provided some sort of caveat.
          Kinda like bringing Alice B. Toklas brownies, or making some of George Kastanza's scrambled eggs!!
          I think I would call the host/hostess and make sure they knew all the facts and then they could advise the "tea person"...I bet that this person never even gave this circumstance a thought..

          1. I think the responsibility is shared between all parties but mostly the food provider and the person who has the medical issue (knowledge is power and all of that). I think it was very poor judgement on the part of the food provider to make an item with a controversial ingredient and not mention it. I think the host is the least responsible along with the spouse of the person with the medical issue.

            1. I think experimenting at home (non social situation) with stuff like this is fine but never in a group and certainly not without letting everybody know ahead of time.

              1 Reply
              1. re: Velma

                The problem is that the FDA is very ambiguous about the status of Stevia. It is still sold in grocery stores in the artificial sweetner area and the many items that use it carry no warnings. Some restaurants even put packets of Stevia with the other sweetners in their coffee/tea set ups. In fact I once had it at one of my restaurants but told the owner we needed to stop because there was growing (but not well publicised) concern.

                So really no one would have anyway of knowing that they were experimenting on guests unless they follow food additive news as I do because it is my job. The woman who made it probably thought is was the same as adding Equal or Splenda (but more expensive and less available)- except Stevia is an all natural product whereas the others are artifical. Most people would reasonably expect that it would be safe to use an all natural ingredient that they can purchase at a grocery store in food they are going to serve to others.

                It WAS approved at a food for many years- when its status changed that change was not highly publicized. It has been in wide use and widely available since the early '90s.
                There are websites all over the internet of recipies using Stevia. So there is no reason to believe that the woman who made the tea was "experimenting on you" anymore than when people made cooking with Splenda when it was first released.

                I think my point remains: if you are on medication it is your responsibilty to get a list of interactive ingredients/substances from your doctor and then make sure you don't consume them.


              2. but if she HAD told you it was stevia at the beginning- you still didn't know then what you know now about it.

                as far as i know it takes years before FDA approves things- and it doesn't necessarily mean something is harmful or bad.

                1. According to the Wikipedia entry, stevia has been commonly used as a sweetner in Japan for over 30 years without any health problems. The entry also appears to agree with the idea that the FDA bowed to the US sugar-sweetner industry in not allowing the natural, long used product (one that is far sweeter than glucose) in the US. The dosage in the tea was quite certainly insufficient to further reduce your spouse's blood pressure.

                  On the other hand, I'm highly allergic to most shellfish. The responsibility is mine to be 100% cautious. Although the tea lady should have said something up front, I've found that allergy-free people can't take allergies quite as serious as we do. Same with your spose's meds and posible interactions.

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                    I've purchased Stevia at my local Trader Joe's (in addition to growing a stevia plant last year purchased at my local nursery) and Sam is right - this stuff is 300x sweeter than regular sugar or sugar substitute....so the amount used in the tea should be a lot less than the amount of regular sugar/sugar substitute.

                    Having said that - I think the guest who brought the tea should have said something at the beginning, and if anyone had any doubts, they could have abstained from having any until they knew more about it.

                    1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                      Stevia is also used throughout Paraguay and Brasil for many centuries to sweeten food, e.g. mate tea.

                    2. Even though I don't think your Spouse has anything to worry about, I still agree with you, if a food product is not what a reasonable person would expect it to be (sugar in this case), they should be warned. I understand the maker's motive...she didn't want you to pre-judge, but I don't think that excuses her actions.

                      I throw up if I ingest Nutra Sweet. I can have tiny amounts, as in gum, but if I drank a can of Diet Coke, I would be unhappy for a an hour or two. A few years ago a restaurant served lemonade with ZERO warning about the aspartame. They didn't call the lemonade sugar-free, no-sugar-added, diet, light, NOTHING. Just "lemonade". I drank a glass and got to spend some time vomiting in the office ladies room. Nice.

                      When I called to complain, they were EXTREMELY snotty about it. All I asked was that they identify the lemonade for the benefit of others. They told me they "didn't have to". I'm glad I was on the phone , not in person, could have been ugly.

                      BTW, The Wall Street Journal reported last week that Coke has teamed up with Cargill to market a new sweetened made from Stevia. Not in this country or the EU, however. It is NOT banned in Japan, China and some others.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: danna

                        I get migraines from Nutrasweet. It's amazing the things people put it in thinking it's as benign as sugar. Please just use the real stuff!

                        However, I will ask if something has Equal/Nutrasweet or even caffeine (since I have a sensitivity to that as well). I can take the caffeine in chocolate, thankfully, but even tea can send my heart racing. It's my responsibility to ensure my own health.

                      2. As a common courtesy when someone brings a dish with a "different" ingredient, they should mention that such and such is in the dish. stevia although sold in many places is probably on that list. just because the fda hasn't approved it is not reason to think there is a life-threatening ingredient. take for example grapefruit juice and lots of medication or citracel and pharmas. some reduction in effect or contraindications, but hard to cast responsibility at someone placing grapefruit segments in a salad.

                        that being said everyone is responsible for what they eat. for example jfood suffers from nut allergies. how unassuming is a tossed salad with pear and blue cheese, nicely dressed. As the rash appeared on jfood's neck it was discovered that nicely dressed meant walnut oil, ouch. jfood is acutely aware of candied nuts in salads but walnut oil? one of those whooda thunk? was jfood upset, short term yup, but at a potluck gourmet group dinner, jfood should have asked everyone if there were nuts in anything. now the invites go out with any allergies that anyone in the gourmet group suffers from.

                        3 Replies
                        1. re: jfood

                          And yet, if you drink a lot of grapefruit juice it really can have horrible effects with certain medications -- there are warnings on the packaging if you buy those meds (and here: http://www.drugs.com/search.php?searc... ).

                          But if you put grapefruit juice in a salad, most people will recognize it as grapefruit, whereas stevia... I don't know what a stevia tastes like. But I know that a lot of people hate or can't tolerate or digest artificial sweeteners, and it seems that even without knowing about the Calcium channel issues, the tea woman might have been more considerate.

                          And as someone from the Northeast who now lives in the South I have to say, normally when you order iced tea down here you get it sweet unless you specify that you don't want sugar added. But I'm almost certain they never put stevia in it without asking ;)

                          1. re: Adrienne

                            but stevia is not an artificial sweetener, it's natural along the lines of honey or agave syrup

                            1. re: justagthing

                              but, the tea maker must have known that she was preparing the tea with something that is unusual in the U.S., therfore something worth mentioning?

                        2. IMO if someone puts something out of the ordinary in any food they're preparing for a crowd, the preparer is responsible for telling them.

                          1. interesting... i was at a wedding this past saturday and the venue was offering packets of sugar, equal, splenda and stevia at the coffee station. people were taking the stevia because the label said it was "an all natural sweetner" and figured it was better for them. not sure if there were any warnings on the packet about drug interactions...

                            4 Replies
                            1. re: rebs

                              The knowledge of interactions should be on the medication and for the person who takes it- not the food.

                              Stevia is ALL NATURAL.. like honey.

                              ANY food can have interactions with different drugs.. including ANY food with significant amounts of vitamin K... or potassium, cheeses, wines, honey.

                              Sorry folks, I know people hate to be responsible for themselves but if you are taking something that interacts with something it is on you to ask.

                              As another poster noted earlier.... the person who wrote this post didn't even know about the interaction until AFTER the party. So even if the person had gone around telling everyone that it was "Stevia, an all natural sweetner common in South America" the person could have been in danger.

                              As to "if people put something out of the ordinary they should tell everyone"... that is completely relative.. cilantro is still out of the ordinary to some... and wasabi and 1000 other things what is out of the ordinary to one is commen to millions.

                              I had a terrible reaction to something at a party once... I have a very serious allergy to shellfish... turns out that while there was no seafood in the dish there was a bit a thai curry paste in the vinaigrette which contained some shrimp paste. Did I whine, nag, berate or threaten to sue to recover my medical bills?

                              No, I was happy that I was able to breathe again and then made a note that it was MY responsibilty to ask what was in things.

                              1. re: lebelage

                                I grudgingly agree. How many people are using Splenda instead of sugar and sending those baked goods to schools, work, etc.? Stevia is technically more natural, in spite of whatever unknown and hardly published risks might exist. My mother hates most fresh herbs, and considers cilantro and rosemary to be nauseating. She actually pukes. She never had anything but dried herbs growing up, and cannot physically get around the fresh stuff. So she asks rather than vomit. And I do mean actually vomiting, not just being grossed out. She has to ask.

                                1. re: lebelage

                                  I'm willing to buy the idea that you put forth that everyone should take responsibility for everything they eat and should inquire about each ingredient in every item they might consume.

                                  But, I'm not willing to accept the idea that "all natrual" means a blessed thing when you're talking about ingredients. Most things are "all natural" when you get down to it. 7-UP recently went "100% natural" but still included high fructose corn syrup. "All natural" doesn't mean anything when your'e assessing whether something might interact with a medication or a medical condition. Honey, for example...entirely 100% all natural and potentially fatal to children under a year or so of age.

                                  So, to call on people to be vigilant in what they consume...sure. To tell them that because something is "all natural" that they can draw any conclusions from that....nope.

                                  Your mental note is a good one...and I'm sure, just like you, that the OP will now ask about every item they or their spouse might consume.

                                  1. re: ccbweb

                                    You're right about that ccbweb- I was unclear.
                                    I certainly don't believe that "all natural" automatically makes something ok.
                                    What I was trying to point out is that many on here said that if you use anything that could be a problem for someone the responsibilty is with the person who made the product.

                                    I was just pointing out that if something says "all natural" and is in the sweetener isle of major grocery stores many will assume that what they are using is just like using sugar, honey or fruit juice and safer in fact than Equal or the like.

                              2. Sadly, some allergans are unavoidable as are medication interferences and best to be vigilant. In the OP case I dont think she met any harm using the Stevia. It seems she is not familar with it as most ppl know Stevia is too potent as a sweetener for iced tea.

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: tom porc

                                  I think it is the responsibility of the person with the allergy or medical condition to ask what is in everything they eat. Absolutely not the person bringing or cooking the food.

                                2. I appreciate everyone's input. I'm holding no grudges against anyone. I was just wondering what people's opinions were.

                                  A few points for clarification:

                                  We live in the South. "Tea" here means heavily sweetened cold tea. You must ask specifically for "hot tea" if that's what you mean or "unsweetened tea" if you don't want to go into a diabetic coma. Unsweetened tea is always served with packets of artificial sweetener because the wait staff assumes you are dieting. Why else would anyone drink it that way? :-)

                                  The reason I even looked up stevia in the first place is that I spent the rest of that evening sick to my stomach with what was apparently mild food poisoning. Since no one else at that meal got sick I initially assumed it had something to do with my Crohn's disease. Everyone with Crohn's reacts a little differently to different things and since I had never encountered stevia before I had no way of knowing if it would pose a problem for me. I was checking to see if there were any known instances of GI disturbance caused by stevia. Apparently there aren't. I still don't know what got me sick but this is how I found out about the interaction with calcium channel blockers.

                                  Crohn's is not the most common thing around and I'm willing to play a little Russian roulette with new foods. The worst that can happen is that I feel sick for a little while. But messing with hypertension? Shoot, that scares me.

                                  2 Replies
                                  1. re: rockycat

                                    In terms of a practical solution, I think that if you let dining companions know that you and your spouse have some health concerns and that you'd really appreciate them letting you know what's in their dishes in advance because of potential medical complications, I'm sure they would comply -- and that you wouldn't have to necessarily supply them with a whole list of things that might compromise your health. If you'd known about Stevia in advance you could have just looked it up and there would have been no issue.

                                    BTW, I have been reading a little bit about stevia since seeing this post last night, and I think your spouse would have had to drink a gallon of this tea to have any real chance of dangerous effects. Most warnings about drug interactions are pretty cautious. But why mess with meds.

                                    1. re: rockycat

                                      I grew up in Kansas, just north of the Oklahoma state line. Growing up my mom told me that I should get used to drinking tea without sugar because one day I'd have to do that (for what reason, I don't know) and I might as well not acquire the taste. So I've never drank my tea sweetened.

                                      Fast forward many, many years. I'm just out of seminary and beginning my search process for my first church. We are flown to northeastern Oklahoma (not too far from my hometown, actually) for a face-to-face interview. The first night we're there, our hostess offers me iced tea, which I accept; then she asks me, "Do you like your tea sweetened or unsweetened?" I said I preferred it unsweetened. She proceeded to make a whole new batch of tea just for me, because the rest of the tea was sweetened. (I had no idea it was a trick question!)

                                      I didn't get the job.

                                    2. Interesting about stevia. It's sold in Trader Joe's. I agree that she should've said something ahead of time, not afterwards. I would even mention something had I used Splenda. But in terms of watching out for ingredients, I think personal responsibility is important also. For example, anyone taking a statin drug (for high cholesterol) should not be eating grapefruit. So they should watch out for anything with grapefruit in it (juice, etc.). I don't think the host has a responsibility to inform guests of every ingredient in each dish.

                                      1. It sounds like the tea woman felt she found some great new sweetener, as she told everyone about it--at the end of the evening.
                                        So, right, everyone is responsible for themselves, but likewise, she was responsible to let people know about her newly discovered "difficult to get" sweetener. Had she done that, then the OP/spouse would have had the chance to make a choice about whether or not to drink the tea. They may not have known about the specific drug interaction, but they would have known that the tea had something unusual in it, and could have made a better choice based on that knowledge.
                                        Personally, I would not like it if someone served tea/lemonade to me that's sweetened by anything other than sugar or honey, and not tell me first.

                                        1 Reply
                                        1. re: slacker

                                          I guess that was the point I was sort of trying to make. I don't expect my hostess to provide me with an ingredient list of every dish she makes and my husband has a nut allergy so I understand full well that we have to proceed with caution. I get that and accept it. From the way this story was told however, the woman who made the tea realized that she was using a sweetener that might be a little bit uncommon (not dangerous) but chose to withhold the information until the end of the evening. What was the point in that? If an ingredient is going to cause controversy, be up front about it or keep your mouth shut.

                                        2. People who use "supplements" like this BELIEVE so strongly that it never occurs to them that a reasonable person might object. So they tend not to think they're doing anything wrong. And you'll never convince them.

                                          No, I don't think it's reasonable for the average person to demand an ingredient list for every item at a potluck, unless you have some condition or allergy (seafood, etc) that puts you outside the large population that is able to eat most anything without injury.

                                          The host may not have known, or may be a "supplement convert" and share the tea-bringer's looniness - in which case, either or both SHOULD have advised you beforehand, but never would have (in practical terms).

                                          Your responsibility, and/or your spouse's, IMO would be to sit the provider down and tell them that the stevia severely interferes with your partner's medications, and that it put your partner at risk to have failed to warn everyone. Chances are they won't listen, but at least you might feel better.

                                          Since your spouse isn't dead from it, you might just want to determine never to consume anything this person cooks or brings in the future. However, if either of you had suffered as a result, you might have a good basis for more serious action.

                                          PS - I just read down far enough to see your additional post about your Crohn's. Crohn's (as I understand it) is so individual, and adverse food reactions can be so surprising, that it might not even help to make a practice of asking about ingredients (or you might want to simply avoid potlucks, or only eat what you bring.) But if you throw the Crohn's into the mix and reconsider your question, I'd go to the "sweet-tea poisoner" and throw up on her. And, y'know, THAT might actually get through to her.

                                          1. It is the food consumer's responsibility, and the consumer alone, to inquire about any ingredients used in a dish. Except for the obvious nuts, the average person is unaware of different allergens, or ingredients that may interact with drugs. Around here, stevia is widely available and is often substituted for sweetener. Many other foods interact with medicines, and it is certainly not the responsibility of the food provider to research how every ingredient may react with every disease.

                                            1. OTH BTW IMO...who brings tea to a potluck?

                                              1 Reply
                                              1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                                I was once asked to supply beverages for a potluck. That was more work than bringing a dish,imo. Didn't bring tea, tho.

                                              2. To me, it's the same as serving someone a diet soda and not telling them before hand. I've had people offer me a cup of coffee and not say that they've add flavoring to it. I think it very presumptuous for someone to do that!

                                                1 Reply
                                                1. re: CocoDan

                                                  Somebody finally found the right word - we've been searching for a word that partakes of just enough indignation but not too much, and applies to all the arguments above, and the word is: PRESUMPTUOUS.

                                                  Says it all.

                                                2. I try to be sensitive to my guest / visitors food issues. I have friends and family with lactose issues, peanut allergies, cayenne pepper allergy, non meat eaters, non pork eaters, etc. When those special guests come to my home I try to point out what is served. IMO any person with special diets or food allergies should ask before tasting.

                                                  In Rockycat's case I think the food / beverage supplier should have mentioned something sooner

                                                  This article reminded me of an old issue that happened. One of my old coworkers cracked a tooth some food that someone brought in for a potluck and wanted reimbursement for dental bills. All potlucks were cancelled after that issue.