Tips for Dining Out With Food Allergies
By Kate Gardner
Thirty-two million Americans -- nearly 1 in 10 adults and 1 in 13 children -- have food allergies. These numbers, reported by Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE), show considerably more people suffer from food allergies than previously thought. The most common food allergies are milk, eggs, peanuts or other tree nuts, soy, wheat, sesame, shellfish, and other fish.
If you're one of these 32 million people, it may be difficult or impossible for you to safely eat out. Several studies have shown restaurant workers don't always have a good understanding of what food allergies are or how to deal with them. A recent study published by the journal Public Library of Science found that the restaurant workers interviewed didn't always believe customers when they said they had food allergies! It's hard to have food allergies and feel like you can never eat out like everyone else. FARE offers tips to make dining out safer.
Picking the Restaurant
If you get to choose, do a little research online and in food allergy communities to find local restaurants that are known for their allergen-free menus or being especially helpful to diners with food allergies. If the choice isn't yours, check out their menu beforehand. Avoid restaurants that have a greater chance of cross-contaminated food such as buffets and bakeries. Chain restaurants can be good options since they are becoming increasingly aware of allergens and have standardized menus across locations.
Once you know where you're going to eat, call the restaurant ahead of time to speak with a manager or chef. The following questions can give you a good idea if the restaurant is a safe, accommodating place to eat.
Can they serve you in their restaurant?
Has the staff been trained on food allergies?
Are separate areas, utensils, and cutting boards used to prepare food for people with allergies?
Are there allergen-free food alternatives (like alternative milk types or gluten-free bread)?
Will you be able to look at ingredient labels?
The answers to these questions will give you the information to decide if you should eat there.
At the Restaurant
At the restaurant, let your servers know you have allergies. You can also carry a special card that lists your food allergies that the server can give to the chef. FARE recommends keeping your order simple and avoiding fried foods (as many foods may have been fried in the same oil). Don't be embarrassed to ask as many questions as you need to make sure your food is safe and feel free to let the restaurant know when they do a great job!
If you work in a restaurant, it's a great idea to read up on common food allergies and how you can help people have safer dining experiences!
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