If you have been diagnosed with a food allergy, dining out may seem tricky – you may be concerned about accidental exposure and cross-contamination. But don’t be worried; with the right steps and planning, you can actually enjoy and have fun eating out, while still staying safe. Read on for a quick overview of everything you need to know about dining out with a food allergy.
My Top Tips for Dining Out Safely with a Food Allergy
Eating at restaurants can be scary if you have food allergies. This everyday event becomes challenging, and it’s common to panic or avoid dining out; at least, that is true for our family. But our food allergies should not stop us from enjoying ourselves when eating out with friends and family. It takes some planning and communication, but it’s worth the effort.
If you follow some steps, you will feel way more comfortable and in control when dining out! You just need to do a little bit of advance planning to ensure that you have a smooth dining experience the next time you visit a restaurant.
1 – Picking the Right Restaurant
The first step is knowing which restaurants are accommodating to food allergies and intolerances. This will guarantee that your dietary needs will be taken into account.
While finding such a restaurant can be a bit of a challenge, taking the time to do this will ensure you have a nice list of dining spots to pick from every time you want to dine out.
You can also check customer reviews of the restaurant and filter them out by reviews made by individuals with food allergies to make an informed decision.
Buffets, bakeries, and chain restaurants that serve pre-made foods have the highest risk of carrying foods with allergens, so you might want to steer clear of these. Also, Thai and Chinese restaurants, for example, often use peanut oil and soy sauce. If you have a fish or shellfish allergy is best to avoid seafood restaurants; even if you plan to order a salad, or something simple, these restaurants have a higher risk of being contaminated with fish or shellfish.
2 – Find Allergy-Friendly restaurants
3 – Look Up the Website and Check the Menu
If you’re dining out with someone, and don’t have the liberty of choosing the restaurant you want to visit, you might want to spend a few minutes looking up the food menu at the place you’re going.
Most menus also specify the key ingredients that go into making certain foods, which can really help you narrow down your choices in advance.
4 – Get in Touch with the Restaurant
It’s highly recommended that you reach out to the restaurant in advance, and check if the kitchen can handle your needs.
You can also ask detailed questions about ingredients that go into making certain dishes you’ve shortlisted, to make sure no mistakes are made when ordering.
Be as descriptive as possible when you tell them about your allergy, and be willing to provide any additional information that might be helpful. Additionally, make sure to let them know if it’s an absolute no-go ingredient for their preparation or if you could eat something that has been handled or prepared carefully in order to avoid cross-contamination.
You can also ask to let the manager or chef know when you plan on dining to see if they will be there to oversee your meal. If not, you can also request that they pass along the information to a qualified person at the restaurant who will be onsite.
5 – Other Steps To Minimize The Risk When Eating Out
- Go early, before the restaurant gets busy. Staff will have more time to answer your questions and help you choose your meal. If you feel restaurant staff is not taking your food allergy seriously – eat somewhere else.
- Once you get to the restaurant, you may want to wipe the table with disinfectant wipes that you’re carrying or ask your waiter to clean up the table for you, just to be double sure.
- Consider preparing a chef card that lists your specific allergies. This card should be shared with the kitchen staff, so everyone knows what food to avoid.
- Bring snacks if you are with kids, sometimes special orders take longer to prepare, and they might get impatient.
- Remember, allergens can appear in alcoholic drinks, so check with bar staff before you order an exotic drink.
- If you’re still a bit skeptical, stick to ordering a simple meal with minimal ingredients.
- Double-check your food when it comes! When the server brings your food to the table, you should always check it before taking the first bite. Ensure that everything is how it suppose to be. It’s okay to send your food back if it is not correct! Don’t feel guilty. Even restaurants with measures in place to prevent cross-contamination can make a mistake, so it is important always to double-check.
- Do a touch test. After all your usual inspections, if you are still not sure about a meal, rub a small amount of the food just inside your lower lip. If you feel tingling, swelling, or burning, do not eat the food. The touch test does not guarantee the food is safe, but it’s an extra safety step you can take.
- If you are eating with friends, tell them in advance about your food allergy and what to do in an emergency situation.
- Finally, you should always go prepared with medications and/or emergency contacts in case of an accidental reaction. You may want to bring your own epinephrine injector, antihistamines, or other necessary emergency medications (or just your emergency kit).
6 – Always Carry your Emergency Kit
Your emergency kit can literally act as your savior in serious situations. Have it handy, and, ideally, clearly marked.
Finally, let the restaurant know when they do a good job of providing an allergy-safe meal, and write a review describing your experience. This will be very helpful for others food allergy families.
With some precautions in place, you can confidently choose a delicious spot for dinner that takes your food allergies into consideration!