Updated: Nov 7, 2019
Going out to eat can be a major cause of stress, anxiety and worry when you have food allergies or other dietary restrictions. Sometimes you may feel that it's easier to just avoid going out altogether and while eating at home tends to be safer it can cause you to feel isolated from social events. Sometimes, you can't avoid going out to eat. Here are some of our top tips to avoid reactions while eating out. 1) Learn where your specific allergens can be hiding.
Restaurant meals can be made a bit differently from how you would make meals at home. For example, if you order a steak they could finish the steak by adding a bit of butter to make it juicier causing a problem for someone with a dairy allergy. It's also important to know what types of sauces/dressing tend to be on your safe list and which ones can contain ingredients you may be sensitive to.
If you're newly diagnosed, I'd love to work together with you to help you to better understand your allergies and where your allergens might be hiding. 2) Research the restaurant that you want to visit. Most places have their menus posted online so that you can read ahead to judge potential options that you can eat. It's usually best to aim for more simple meals where you can tell what ingredients are in them. It's also important to think about the restaurant's environment.
As someone with a severe peanut allergy, I tend to avoid Thai restaurants or bars where they allow peanut shells to be thrown on the floor etc. Even though I wouldn't necessarily be ordering a dish that contains peanuts, the risk for cross-contamination and exposure would simply be too high, causing unnecessary risk.
3) Call ahead
You can phone ahead to make a reservation and let the person on the phone know about your restrictions and ask if they have experience with allergies and whether or not they can accommodate you. Sometimes restaurants have special gluten free or allergy friendly menus available. Ask when their busy hours are and try to go when the restaurant is quieter, such as right when they open or between meals so that there is less chance for errors and your concerns will be heard.
4) Ask about how the restaurant's food allergy policy and how they avoid cross contamination.
Your chosen meal may not contain your food allergen but if they use the same water to cook regular and gluten free pasta, or use the same tongs to toss your salad as one that they use for nuts/croutons etc. you could get sick.
With gluten free pizza, If they use the same pizza oven, paddle to get your pizza out of the oven pizza cutter, or if they don't wipe their counters before starting your order it could be a recipe for disaster. Asking what type of oils they use for deep frying can help if you suffer from a peanut or soy allergy for example. If you're gluten free, asking whether or not they have a dedicated fryer for only gluten free foods such as fries or chicken wings which haven't been dusted or breaded etc. is another way to help avoid cross contamination. It's a myth that the fryer can destroy the gluten.
5) Don't be shy. Tell your waiter what your dietary restrictions are and stress their severity. It can feel awkward to ask your waiter questions in front of everyone or you can feel like you're wasting their time. It's important however to not feel shy and to speak up to ensure that your meal will be safe for you. Confirm with your waiter when the food arrives that it has been made to your specifications. Your waiter is your best form of communication with the kitchen staff and can help relay your questions to the kitchen. You can also have your allergy information printed out on an easy to read card to be passed to the kitchen. This can be a reusable card which can be laminated, or you can have multiple disposable cards made to be given to your server so you won't have to worry if it gets lost. If you are considering a certain meal, ask if they think it would be safe for you as is, if it could be modified, or if you're better off choosing another meal entirely.
6) Always, always bring your EpiPen
Sometimes you can ask all the right questions and still react. Restaurants get busy, mistakes get made. It's important to bring your EpiPen and to make sure that it's close by and not in the car. I usually joke with a friend or family member who I've had a discussion with prior and tell them that they have my permission to stab me and call an ambulance if things go sideways and I go into anaphylaxis. I make sure that my friend knows in advance how to use my EpiPen as well. Always follow up with the restaurant if you do end up having a reaction as this can help them to review what happened and modify their safety routine.
I hope you've enjoyed our top tips for dining out. Please let us know in the comment section if you have any other tips that you like to use.
Sincerely, The Allergic Nutritionist Breanne Mifflin R.H.N. NNCP www.allergicnutritionist.com