A step by step guide on eating out with food allergies:
Step 1: EPI-PEN
Carry 2x Adrenaline Auto-Injectors with you at all times. Every time you leave the house, ensure you have your auto-injectors with you.
Notice how I added an ‘S’, indicating you should have your 2x auto-injectors together ready to go at all times, see rule 1 of my TOP 10 TIPS for my method.
Ensure the auto-injectors are in date and are in the smallest front compartment of your bag, therefore they are easily accessible, and they can be spotted straight away once the zip is opened.
Ensure that your family and friends know where to locate your auto-injectors in case of an emergency.
Step 2: Research
Research restaurants nearby that cater for individuals with allergies, as nowadays many restaurants have allergy policies and different menus for specific dietary requirements. Look up the menu and the allergen list online and follow up with a phone call/ /email or visit the restaurant to enquire about their allergy policy and ask if they can cater for you.
If you are not in the position to research in advance and just want a quick bite to eat, choose a reliable restaurant that you have eaten in before and ask to speak with the manager about your allergy. Be aware that ingredients can change within recipes at any time and different chefs may add or leave out particular ingredients. So just because you’ve eaten something on one occasion with no issues, it doesn’t mean the dish is necessarily safe next time. ALWAYS speak with staff about your food allergies.
*See Step 8 for Questions to Ask.*
Step 3: Inform staff about food allergies and watch their reaction
At the restaurant, ask to speak with the manager, and chef if possible, about your food allergies. Make eye-contact and explain the severity of your allergy when you speak with them. Watch their reaction, they could freeze up and show uncertainty of how to respond or they may know how to deal with these requests and confidently inform you of their allergy precautions. I’ve found that the most accommodating restaurants are proud of their ability to serve food-allergic customers, with staff members who are enthusiastic about explaining their food allergy policies and confident in answering your questions. If you do not feel reassured by their response, consider finding another restaurant.
Step 4: Ask Open-ended questions
Ask open-ended questions where the staff must seek out the correct answer on site from the chef instead of yes/no answers. Such as what cooking oil do you use? Or, what sauces/dips do you have? With this approach, staff are likely to source the correct information directly from the chef or kitchen staff. Using this process the staff aren’t inclined to just answer yes/no without greater investigation.
Ask about the ingredients list, food preparation or cross-contamination risks, for example if different utensils are used for each food type or if gloves are used to prepare special requests.
Step 5: Dine at Off-Peak times
Dine at off peak hours when possible; the restaurant will be less busy, the staff should have time double-check ingredients and allergen lists and can take precautions with your order.
Step 6: Your Company
The people around you should be aware of your allergy and should take precautions when in your company. When eating out with friends, ensure they know about your allergy and the foods that you are not comfortable with them eating when near you. Ensure they know exactly where your auto-injectors are.
I usually keep mine in the same compartment of my bag so if I tell my friends once, they will always know. Depending on how severe your allergy may be, for example if airborne, then they should know to avoid dishes that contain your allergen.
This will also reduce unnecessary stress for yourself, if you’re wary of what they have touched after eating.
Step 7: Drinks
This is something to be aware of as often people don’t realise the risk here.
Often smoothies contain certain allergens that may not be labelled in the ingredients as recipes can change frequently. Equipment and utensils may be reused and may not be cleaned thoroughly, particularly utensils which are used to add ingredients or toppings (i.e the same spoon could be used for marshmallows and nuts or even the marshmallows could be in the same container that the nuts had been in previously).
It is worth noting there are different types of nut milk available and that certain coffees/lattes can contain a particular type of nut milk. Some alcoholic drinks contain raw egg whites – the white ‘fuzz’ of a Pisco sour, for example, is from beaten egg whites. Raw eggs are particularly dangerous in people with egg allergies.
Also be wary of friends taking a sip of your drink, or trying a friends drink, especially after dinner as there may be a trace of the allergen on their glass or even from their hands holding the glass.
Also remember cross contact can occur with drink stirrers, shakers and other utensils used to mix drinks as with condiments like sprigs of mint or slices of fruit.
Step 8: Types of Cuisine & What Food to Order
Be aware of the types of food that may be a high risk for your particular allergy. Chinese/Indian/Eastern/Oriental cuisine are likely to be high risk for nut allergies. If you’re allergic to fish/seafood you should avoid restaurants that specialise in fish/seafood dishes.
Sometimes restaurants where customers can customise their meal and toppings, sauces are the easiest to monitor ingredients, so there is less risk of their dish containing the allergen.
If you are unsure, always check with the restaurant staff.
Order food where the exact ingredients used are clearly labelled and you know how it will be prepared and cooked.
Speak with the chef and staff about how your food will be cooked. Cross-contact could occur from frying pans, woks or grill equipment that are not cleaned thoroughly after use.
- Check the ingredients of sauces, dressings and dips as they can contain a variety of different ingredients depending on the chef and may contain hidden allergens, such as wheat flour.
- Some dishes, in particular curries, may be thickened with peanut flour or ground almonds.
- Bread rolls can often contain nuts or seeds.
Step 9: Hidden Labels
Be aware of hidden allergens and ensure the restaurant is aware of hidden names for allergens. It is a good idea to keep a card in your purse displaying all the possible names for your allergen and show it to staff/chefs.
Step 10: Be Confident
An open dialogue is vital between the consumer and the restaurant staff, manufacturer or retailor providing a food product.
Stay calm, clear and confident when informing staff about your allergy and ask questions about your chosen dish to ensure it is allergen free and safe for you.
It is important to remain calm, confident and persistent when requesting your food allergy needs. People may perceive you as being fussy but inform them of the severity of your allergy and that you must take these precautions for your own safety. It can become frustrating if the staff don’t understand your dietary requirements, so it is worth preparing what you what to say in a clear and polite manner.