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Dining out with Food Allergies: A Beginner’s Guide

Author: Emily Melby, RDN

As anyone with food allergies knows, dining out with food allergies can be a chore! Finding a restaurant that not only offers allergy-free meals, but also is watchful for cross contamination issues is essential to a successful dining experience. Below are some tips to help you and your family enjoy the dining experience.

First, do your research. Ask other food allergy friends for restaurant suggestions. Word of mouth is going to be a great indicator if a restaurant is allergy friendly.

Have a smart phone? Try a food allergy app.

Once you have restaurants in mind, review the menu prior to visiting. Most restaurants have their menu posted online. Some will even have a food allergy grid so you can see what allergens are in each individual dish.

You will want to consider avoiding what are typically high-risk restaurants. These include buffets, bakeries, restaurants with only prepackaged food, and restaurants using multiple allergens in their dishes.

If traveling out of your normal location it may be best to seek out a chain restaurant that notes known allergens or offers special options. Chain restaurants have similar standards and should use the same ingredients, making dishes consistent between locations.

Once you have done your research and determined which restaurants look promising call ahead and speak with the manager. Some tips for calling a restaurant include:

Prior to going out, always consider what time you will be eating. The kitchen will be less messy if you eat an early meal after the restaurant has just opened. This will ensure a cleaner kitchen and less chance for cross contamination.

Once at the restaurant, seek out the manager whom you spoke with. Give your chef card to the manager or host prior to being seated. Ask that the chef card be given to the chef.

When ordering, keep your order simple and choose dishes with minimal ingredients. Salads, whole vegetables and fruits, along with meats void of gravies and sauces, will be less likely to contain hidden ingredients. Avoid fried foods. Oil used to fry foods is highly likely to contain fragments of various food allergens.

Remember, no matter how careful and prepared you are while dining out, be prepared. Keep your epi pen with you just in case of an accidental exposure. Talk to your doctor for information on how you can treat the underlying allergic cause. With treatments like sublingual immunotherapy available to treat food allergy, there’s more opportunity to enjoy the simple pleasures of sharing a meal with less anxiety of a reaction.

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