When you are eating out with food allergies, planning ahead is important. Follow these tips for a better dining experience.
- Ask around. Your allergist and other people who manage food allergies may have recommendations.
- Go online. To see if a particular restaurant may be a good choice, check out their website and review the menu in advance.
- Think about the venue. Certain types of restaurants will be better suited to people with food allergies. It is best to avoid riskier choices, which could include:
- Buffets: With a wide variety of foods so close to one another, the risk for accidental exposure and cross-contact is high.
- Bakeries: There is a high risk of cross-contact, since many items are made with the top eight allergens. Also, many baked goods are not packaged.
- Restaurants that serve pre-made foods: The staff may not have an accurate list of the ingredients in a pre-made item. Because the dishes are not prepared from scratch, you can’t ask the chef to remove the problem ingredient from an item that would otherwise be safe to eat.
- Restaurants that are known to use allergens in many dishes. For instance, peanuts and other nuts are used frequently in Asian cuisines. In ice cream parlors, shared scoops increase the risk of cross-contact. If you have a fish or shellfish allergy, it’s a good idea to avoid seafood restaurants altogether.
- Consider chain restaurants, especially when you’re traveling. Each restaurant is likely to use the same ingredients and prepare foods the same way. And a growing number of them are allergy-aware.
- Ask the caterer. If you plan to attend a catered event, inquire if it’s possible to provide an allergy-friendly meal option.
- Call ahead and ask to speak to a manager. Chef Joel Schaefer has put together some tips and sample questions for calling restaurants.
- Know that timing is everything. Choose a day and time when restaurant kitchens are not as busy. The best time to dine at any restaurant is during the first hour of a service period. The staff is more alert and attentive, and the kitchen is much cleaner. If possible, plan for an early meal.
- Bring a chef card. This wallet-sized card lists your food allergies and states that your food must be cooked in a clean and safe area to avoid cross-contact. FARE has a chef card template available in English and nine foreign languages.
- Be prepared. No matter how carefully you’ve planned or how safe you feel at a particular restaurant, accidents can still happen when you’re dining out. Never leave home without your epinephrine auto-injector and any additional medications your doctor prescribes. Consider wearing your medical identification (e.g., bracelet, other jewelry) as well.
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