For many people, an invitation from friends to get dinner and a movie or go out for a bite to eat is a cherished pastime. For the approximately 15 million Americans with food allergies, however, this simple invitation can often go hand-in-hand with anxiety.
The top eight foods responsible for 90 percent of food allergic reactions are peanuts, tree nuts, fish, shellfish, eggs, wheat, soy, and dairy, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Many of these foods are commonly used as ingredients in restaurant menus, but they are far from being the only foods that can cause an allergic reaction. It's also important to note that even a trace amount of an allergy-causing food is enough to trigger an allergic reaction in some people. Furthermore, any person can develop an allergy at any time in their lives and one food that is off-limits for one diner can be considered completely safe for another.
Avoiding allergens does not have to mean avoiding going out to restaurants or avoiding fun with friends. Here are safety tips and techniques for safely dining out with food allergies:
Understand your allergy.
Have an allergist test you for food allergies and confirm your diagnosis. Your allergist should clearly explain your allergy and help you put an allergy action plan in place. The plan will help you to manage your allergy on a day-to-day basis and also prepare you for what steps you need to take if you are exposed to the allergen. Your action plan may include carrying emergency medication with you at all times.
By understanding your allergy, you will be better able to communicate important information about it to others, such as restaurant wait staff, chefs, and anyone that will come into contact with your food.
Choose a restaurant where you feel comfortable.
If you have a say in the choice of venue, pick a restaurant that is known for dealing with food allergies in a positive, respectful manner or choose a restaurant that is known for its excellent customer service. You want to feel comfortable and reassured that the kitchen staff will follow your instructions. Many restaurants now place allergy information and statements on their menus to let diners know if a dish contains a known allergen.
You can also check out the restaurant's menu in advance online and call ahead to let the kitchen staff know they will be serving someone with allergies. Advanced notice gives the kitchen time to prepare for your meal and make special arrangements, if necessary.
Repeat your needs.
Don't be afraid to repeat yourself when it comes to your food allergies. Even if you spoke with someone on the phone, discuss your allergy with your waiter and see if it is possible to speak with the chef that will be preparing your meal. You may also want to carry a "chef card" that outlines your allergy and explains where the allergen might "hide" in other ingredients or foods. The wait staff can pass the card along to the kitchen to ensure the information about your allergy is properly communicated to all parties.
You should also communicate clearly with bartenders, as eggs, dairy, peanuts, and tree nuts can be used as ingredients in drinks.
When your meal is placed in front of you, confirm that this is in fact your dish and that it was prepared to your specifications. If anything doesn't look right about the dish or you have a reason to believe it may be contaminated with an allergen, speak to the management about having it remade.
Food allergies are a real and serious concern. By understanding your diagnosis, communicating effectively, and having an allergy action plan in place, people with food allergies can have a wonderful dining experience at almost any restaurant.
If you suspect you have food allergies or need help creating an allergy management plan, make an appointment with your allergist today.