How to Dine Out With Multiple Food Allergies
How to Dine Out With Multiple Food Allergies
Having food allergies is very common today, but individuals with ASD often have multiple food allergies so it’s not as easy as saying “no croutons on the salad, please”. You have to know every ingredient in every component of the meal, including the beverage, to make sure you have a safe dining experience.
Because corporate policies change frequently and without notice, any listing of “safe” foods or restaurants is outdated the moment it’s written. Instead, we give you the methods you can use anywhere to eat as safely as possible when away from home.
Intolerance, Allergy and Anaphylaxis
Not all allergies are the same. One person can have an intolerance to wheat, an allergy to dairy and an anaphylaxis-level allergy to peanuts. You need to be clear with the restaurant staff about what kind of allergy you have and what they can do to remove the threat.
For instance, if you are iodine-allergic, you can ask that your food is cooked in a clean pan, using clean utensils and unsalted. Knowing the corrections needed for your allergies will help the kitchen staff in case they are unfamiliar with your particular allergy.
Intolerance and allergy can manifest itself in many ways including immunological reactions like inflammation such as inflammatory bowel disease, rheumatoid arthritis flare, migraines. It can also show in behavioral reactions like giggling. Allergic symptoms can also include red ears, rash, hives, and breathing problems which can lead to anaphylaxis.
Remember, food “preferences” are not allergies. Be clear with your server which are allergies rather than preferences.
Ingredient versus Cross-contamination
It’s one thing to order a burger without a bun for gluten allergies, but what about when they cook your French fries in the same oil they cook gluten-coated chicken nuggets, cheese-filled and gluten-coated jalapeno poppers and so on. Or when they grill your burger on the same spot they browned a glutinous bun minutes before. That’s called cross contamination. Sometimes it’s a little and sometimes it’s a lot. Cross contamination is not something you can readily see, until and unless you see an allergy reaction. The more severe your allergies are, the more serious you have to take cross contamination.
It's almost impossible to avoid cross contamination in restaurants without a lot of work and a very reduced menu of choices so you need to know what your allergens are, how severe they are, and how to properly navigate around them in a commercial kitchen, where possible.
Most common allergies
The top 8 allergens are dairy, eggs, wheat, soy, fish, shellfish, peanuts and tree nuts. However, anyone can be allergic to anything at any time. Even if you’ve never had a reaction before, you can become allergic at any age. More on allergens and labeling.
Legally Allergen-Free Versus Truly Allergen-Free
There is a legal definition of “allergen-free” and it usually allows some of the allergen. Crazy, huh?
Like ghee, which comes from milk, but can be labeled as “casein-free”. It cannot be truly casein free by it's very nature, but what it can be is under the legally allowed limit for casein in a product, as set by the FDA. If you’re truly casein-allergic, even the FDA's legally-allowed amount is too much.
The same goes for “soy protein free” when soy lecithin is included. Research shows people with soy allergies still react to “protein-free lecithin”.
Gluten is allowed at 20 PPM (Parts per million) and can still be labeled Gluten-Free.
There is no law that says a restaurant has to create food to meet your dietary requirements. It’s their right to serve what they want. It’s your right to eat elsewhere.
While the FDA’s guidance is that restaurants or food sellers should produce an ingredient list upon request, it is not law. If they choose not to provide it, you can choose to eat elsewhere.
Our Tips to Dining Out Safely
Before you go:
- Go online and check out their website
- Call ahead and talk to the kitchen manager or chef
- Check their rating on websites or smartphone apps like AllergyEats.com
- Go at off-peak times so the staff will have the time needed to deal with your special request
- Stay away from restaurants with “Family” in the name. “Family” commonly means “breaded and fried”
- Stick with national chains where possible. Small local places are great but most are less able to handle special food requests. Chains usually have more experience and processes in place to handle your allergy needs.
Once you’re there:
- Ask for an allergy menu
- Ask to have the chef or kitchen manager come to your table so you can go over how they can meet your allergies
- Use a Chef Card
- Have preventative measures like enzymes and treatments like Benadryl or an EpiPen on hand.
- Skip Dessert. Desserts are almost never allergen-free and unless the pastry chef is on hand at your mealtime, which is very rare, the rest of the staff won’t know what ingredients were used.
- If all went well, make sure you thank the staff involved and tip well.
Share the Knowledge
After dining make sure you rate the restaurant at websites or Smartphone apps like Allergy Eats or Yelp.com, you can mention how well they handled your allergen-free requirements. It’s important to rate restaurants, both good and bad, so that other families know to go to, or avoid, places based on allergies.
Excerpted from AllergyEats
The 2015 Top Ten national ranked Allergy-Friendly are:
Most allergy-friendly large chains:
- Chipotle Mexican Grill
- P.F. Chang’s China Bistro
- Red Robin Gourmet Burgers
- Outback Steakhouse
- Mellow Mushroom
Most allergy-friendly small chains:
- Maggiano’s Little Italy
- Burtons Grill
- Legal Sea Foods
- Joe’s American Bar & Grill
- Not Your Average Joe’s