This is an area of a lot of stress for many people dealing with food allergies. Some choose to avoid it altogether because they feel it is just too dangerous. Perhaps it is. There are so many variables. Did the kitchen staff wash the surfaces and utensils thoroughly before preparing my meal? Did anyone touch my allergen and then touch my food? Does the kitchen staff know if the ingredients used in my meal were processed in a facility where my allergen is used?
It is a good idea to ask around and see if people you know with food allergies have recommendations for allergy friendly restaurants. Some are known to be extremely careful, and to educate their staff on the seriousness of food allergies.
I like to review menus in advance and figure out what menu options seem allergy free. Sometimes I call beforehand to make sure there are no ingredients that will be an issue. Once we are there, we always tell our server about all the allergies we have to deal with. We explain that these are potentially life threatening allergies, NOT FOOD PREFERENCES! Even if we have been to a restaurant and found it safe in the past, we go through the routine every time. Restaurants may change ingredients or recipes whenever they choose. We always have epinephrine on hand. Since we have a peanut allergy, we rarely order dessert. So many desserts are processed where peanuts are and it’s just not worth it. (We are usually full by dessert anyway, so it is not difficult to pass it up.)
Some people advocate that you should visit a restaurant during a downtime. The thought is that the staff is less busy and can focus better on your requests. There is less of a chance of a mix up. I do agree with this, however it is not ideal to have to eat dinner at 3pm or 10pm. I can see both sides of this argument. You should consider this and if possible, visit during these less busy times.
A great option is using chef cards or allergy cards. These are cards that you print up and give to your server, who in turn gives it to the chef. This gives them a written reminder about the allergy and how to proceed. Many websites have downloadable versions that you can customize and print yourself.
FARE has a great one : Chef Card
You can also design them on a business card and have them printed. I am working on one, I will post once it is ready!
Once your food is brought to the table, check to make sure it is correct, Ask the server again if this is _________free. Reiterate that this is an allergy.
The more your dine out, the more comfortable you will be with asking questions and telling your story. Our nine year old does this himself now. It is important to teach the kids to do this for themselves. They will be away from you at some point and need to be their own advocate.
As a summary, here are the things to remember when dining out:
Ask for recommendations
Review menus ahead of time if possible
Call in advance to verify recipes
Optional: Visit during a downtime
Stress to your server that these are allergies not preferences
Bring a chef card with your allergies listed
Check your food once it is brought to the table
Always carry epinephrine!!
I will be posting an allergy friendly granola bar recipe this week, stay tuned! Food allergy awareness week is next week!!!