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.
- Be your own advocate. Call ahead (during off-peak hours) to ask whether a restaurant can accommodate you. Don’t be afraid of offending someone at a restaurant or event; your safety is most important. Be assertive but polite and make sure the host, server, chef, and manager know about your food allergy or gluten intolerance and understand the severity and implications of an allergic reaction.
- Familiarize yourself with potential symptoms in case you or your child has an allergic reaction. Be vigilant about watching out for symptoms. This is especially important for those who have children with food allergies or who’ve never had an allergic reaction. Remember, the same person can have different allergic reactions at different times.
- Eat out during off-peak hours. Dining before 6:00pm or after 9:00pm gives the restaurant the ability to pay more attention to your order. Bonus: your service will probably be much quicker.
- 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, according to a study by Johns Hopkins Children’s Center, plain old soap and water are more effective than hand sanitizers for removing allergens.
- 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.
- 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 Research & Education’s website.
- 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 into one of these areas.
- 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 comment below if you have any other great tips that you think our food allergy community would find helpful.