Is it Safe to Dine Out if You Have a Food Allergy?
Posted: October 16, 2012
Good news - eating out today is a lot easier - and safer – for those who suffer with a mild, moderate, or even a severe food allergy. One reason: Restaurants are more aware and more prepared.While restaurants have taken steps to help you from having an allergic reaction the best defense is with you and your knowledge of your own food allergy. Here are some recommendations:
1. Know which foods to avoid
Clearly, the most obvious way to avoid having a food allergy reaction is not to order the offending food. But that's not always so easy. Your allergen could be lurking in breading, a salad dressing, baked goods, or sauces, so it might not be obvious when your meal arrives.
2. Know the other names for your offending foods.
If you're going to request that something be left out of a dish, it's vital to know all the names, including derivatives under which your allergen may be listed.
The FDA considered this step so important it instituted the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act in 2004, which mandated that all food manufacturers clearly label product ingredients as they relate to eight major food allergies.
Still, experts caution this law only pertains to the eight most common food allergens: milk, eggs, wheat, soy, peanuts, tree nuts, shellfish, and regular fish. These are responsible for more than 90% of all U.S. food allergies.
Here are places you might not expect to find some ingredients;
Hidden sources: hot dogs, canned tuna, some chewing gum, margarine made from corn oil (skim milk powder), granola bars, chocolate chips, desserts containing caramel coloring, brown-sugar flavoring, coconut-cream flavoring, natural chocolate flavoring.
Hidden sources: Milky Way or Snickers bars (nougat contains eggs); any baked good with a shiny surface, including bagels and pretzels; the foam on some coffee drinks; the pasta in prepared foods such as soups.
Hidden sources: Barbecue sauce, bouillon, chili (nuts are used sometimes as thickener).
Hidden sources: Hydrolyzed wheat protein is sometimes listed only as a flavor enhancer or binder in food, alcoholic beverages, hot dogs, ice cream cones, licorice, soup mixes, coffee creamer substitutes (grain based), butter flavoring, caramel coloring, some brands of butter, couscous.
Hidden sources: Caesar salad (anchovies); foods fortified with omega-3 fatty acids (fish source), including some orange juice, baby cereals, and soy milk.
3. Carefully Choose a Restaurant
While what you order is important, where you order it matters, too. Some restaurants are more likely to not only accommodate your food allergy, but also be better educated on how best to do that.
The larger and more established a restaurant is, the more likely it has dealt with food allergies in the past. So the staff is less likely to be surprised or thrown by your requests.
Other good alternatives are corporate chain restaurants. Chains often have tighter controls on their menus and ingredients than independently owned restaurants, so the staff is more likely to know exactly what's in each dish.
Phone the restaurant ahead of time and find out what its policy is on serving people with food allergies.
Tell the wait staff about your food allergy when you arrive. Having an allergy card to hand to your server may help too. These small business-size cards feature your name and food allergy and all offending ingredients with a request that the kitchen leave them off any dish you order.
4. Be Prepared – Just in Case
Make sure to have your food allergy medications with you such as injectable epinephrine and an antihistamine. A severe allergic reaction can be life-threatening, so it is important to have your emergency medication with you.
For an extensive list of Food Allergen Derivatives go to: http://datcp.wi.gov/uploads/Food/pdf/derivatives.pdf
Extension Educator and Certified Food Safety Instructor
Penn State Extension