The world can be a scary place when you’re not 100% in control of what’s on your plate. Besides avoiding any food or food product that contains your allergen and carrying medications at all times, here are some safe eating tips to avoid cross-contamination and allergic reactions when dining out.
1. Be your own advocate. Don’t be afraid of offending someone at a restaurant or event; your safety is most important. Be assertive and make sure the host, server, chef, and manager know about your food allergy or gluten intolerance. Make sure they understand the severity and implications of an allergic reaction.
2. Familiarize yourself with potential symptoms in case you or your child has an allergic reaction. Because allergic reactions vary and may be different each time, educate yourself on what symptoms to watch for. This is especially important for those who have children with food allergies or if you’ve never had an allergic reaction.
3. Eat out during off-peak hours. Dining before 6:30pm or after 9:00pm gives the restaurant the ability to pay more attention to your order. Bonus: your service will probably be much quicker.
4. Bring wipes and wash hands diligently before you eat. Wipe down the table, as you can never be sure it’s been cleaned thoroughly. For children with food allergies, consider bringing disposable, stick-on placemats. As for washing hands, plain old soap and water are more effective than hand sanitizers for removing allergens according to a study by Johns Hopkins Children’s Center.
5. Keep dishes simple. If a restaurant doesn’t have an allergy-friendly menu or gluten-free menu, order simple such as proteins and vegetables. Just be sure to request your meal be prepared on clean kitchenware and without sauce.
6. Read ingredient lists vigilantly. It’s easy to scan but you may miss something. Many labels now have an extra line about included food allergens but many don’t. Read everything and trust your instincts! Become familiar with terms that are related to your allergen and its derivatives. This way you can watch for those terms on ingredients lists, too. Download How To Read A Label from the Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network’s website.
7. Avoid places with a likelihood of cross-contamination. Skip eating from buffets, salad bars, and bulk bins. It’s impossible to tell if your food allergen has been dropped or leaked in one of these areas.
8. Praise good businesses. If you have a positive experience, consider following up with the manager or writing a positive review somewhere. This benefits the food-allergic and gluten-intolerant communities at large.
As the above are only some of the many great tips about dining out safely with food allergies or gluten intolerance, we suggest reading articles like Web MD’s Tips For Eating Out and Enjoy Life Food’s Tips & Hints. Please contact us if you have any great tips that you think our community of people with food allergies, gluten intolerance or conditions like Celiac disease would find helpful.