Eating at a restaurant can be a wonderful experience. Restaurants provide the opportunity to enjoy a meal with family and friends in a relaxed atmosphere without the time and effort required to prepare the meal, and the bonus of not having to deal with cleanup and washing the dishes. However, for families with food allergies, eating in a restaurant can be a stressful scary experience.
Approximately 8% of children and up to 5% of adults in the United States are affected by food allergy. Food-allergic reactions are a leading cause of emergency room visits for anaphylaxis. Those with food allergy and their families must be vigilant when eating in restaurants and at other social gatherings outside of home.
Plan Ahead When Eating Out
When you are eating out with food allergies, planning ahead is important. When selecting a restaurant, go online to see if a particular restaurant is a good choice. Certain types of restaurants will be better suited for people with food allergies. Some venues such as buffets and bakeries carry a high risk for cross-contamination. Restaurants that serve pre-made foods are a higher risk because the dishes are not prepared from scratch. So you can’t ask the chef to remove the problem ingredient from an item that would otherwise be safe to eat. For those with peanut or tree nut allergy, Asian cuisines can pose problems, since peanuts and tree nuts are frequently used in many Asian dishes. Ice cream parlors use the same ice cream scoop time and again, resulting in an increased risk of cross-contamination.
Advice For Eating Out With Food Allergies
If you are planning on eating outside your home, here are some tips for preparing for a restaurant meal:
- Call the restaurant ahead of time and speak to a manager to inquire about the restaurant’s experience with food allergy
- Choose a day and time when the restaurant kitchens are less busy
- Talk to everyone. Tell the manager and your waiter about your food allergies before you are seated
- Bring a wallet-sized card listing your food allergies, which can be provided to the waiter, manager and chef
- Keep it simple when selecting your meal
- Avoid fried foods because both the grill and frying oil are high-risk areas for cross-contamination
Hopefully your restaurant experience will be relaxing and enjoyable. However, as the Boy Scout motto says “Be Prepared.” No matter how carefully you plan or how safe you feel at a particular restaurant, accidents can still happen. Never leave home without your epinephrine auto-injector and any additional medication that your doctor prescribes.
At Advanced Allergy and Asthma Care, our allergists believe that planning is critical to preventing serious allergic reactions. In addition to food allergy, we treat, insect, nasal, eye and skin allergies, as well as sinus infections and asthma. We have offices in the Fairfield County, CT towns of Danbury, Norwalk, Ridgefield and New Milford.
- Jonathan Bell. M.D.