Eating Out Safely With A Food Allergy

If you’ve just been diagnosed with a food allergy, get ready for some changes, especially if you like to eat out. Eating out when you have food allergies can be dangerous if you’re not careful — and sometimes dangerous even if you are careful. Because so many recipes and ingredients are exposed to foods that people are allergic to, the risk can exist even if you don’t think the food contains a specific allergen. Add in people who don’t understand the severity of a food allergy, and you could end up in the hospital. Here are some ways to check out restaurants to see if you can safely eat there.

Online Menus

Many, many restaurants now have their menus online, and with the increase in people wanting to eat clean or just have control over what they eat, these menus often list ingredients. Occasionally you’ll still see ingredients that have a separate list of ingredients themselves, such as a dish that contains chocolate, which is actually a mixture of ingredients itself. Other times, the restaurant will break down the ingredients in fine detail so that you know exactly what’s in a dish. If you can’t find the information you need, or if the restaurant doesn’t list ingredients, call the establishment.

Ask the Staff

If you’re out and about and just feeling hungry, you can still pop into a restaurant for a last-minute meal — but you’ll need to ask the staff first about whether or not they can accommodate you. Keep in mind that there’s only so much the staff can do to make the food safe for you to eat if they have the foods you’re allergic to in their kitchen. It’s not asking too much to have them wash pans and utensils thoroughly, or to keep the allergenic ingredient away from your food as it’s being prepared. It is asking a bit too much to have the entire kitchen cleaned out, or to have the staff run out to get special ingredients just for your meal.

Note that if you have a severe allergy, the staff might actually decline to serve you on the grounds that they just can’t guarantee that you won’t have a reaction. Do not be insulted by this — it means the staff understands food allergies. The staff isn’t refusing you service to be mean; they’re doing it because they don’t think they can keep you safe and aren’t willing to take a chance. Say thank you, and find another place to eat.

Watch out for Hidden Allergens

Become familiar with hidden pitfalls in foods so that you know to ask about them. For example, people with soy allergies are often OK eating foods that use soybean oil. There isn’t enough soy protein in the oil to set off a reaction in these people. But some people are severely allergic to soy and can’t have even the oil. So you would think, if you’ve just developed a soy allergy that’s really severe, that all you have to do is avoid cuisines known for soy, like Asian cuisines, right?

Nope. Mexican food often uses vegetable oil — usually soybean or a soy mixture with other oils — instead of lard in its recipes. That could set off a severe reaction if you eat the food thinking that there’s no problem because Mexican food doesn’t overtly use soy in its dishes. Hidden issues like that, which most people don’t think about, can be a real problem. Start studying what foods and cuisines use the allergens you need to avoid.

Also, always remember to carry antihistamines or a rescue medication prescribed by your doctor. Talk to your doctor about the exact steps to take if you accidentally eat something you shouldn’t.

Many people with food allergies can still eat out successfully. It may take some adjustment, but you’ll be able to find restaurants that serve food you can eat and that will make their dishes as safe as possible for you. Most restaurant staffs understand what a problem food allergies can be, so keep searching. You’ll find restaurants that quickly become favorites.

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