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Eating out with Food Allergies & Gluten Sensitivities

Eating out with peanut allergies, milk allergies, seafood allergies, wheat allergies, gluten sensitivity or other food allergies can be a stressful experience. This short video gives helpful tips on how to eat out at restaurants safely.

Narration Text

Is it ok to eat out with food allergies? What can I do to make dining a safe experience for my family and me?

Hi, I’m Julie Trone, from Allergy Free Table and we want to help you answer those questions. Dining out can be an enjoyable experience, but for those with Food Allergies, it can be a frightening and even life threatening experience. This quick course provides some tips on how to eat out safely by learning how to choose a restaurant and what to do when you arrive.

We are not medical professionals, or offering medical advice. A safe dining experience can never be guaranteed; our goal is to offer guidelines to help you create a safer environment so please only continue with this video if you agree with these terms of use.

Let’s get started with how to determine whether a restaurant is right for you. If you have severe food allergies, some restaurants such as buffet restaurants should be avoided due to the increased chance for cross contamination. Considering the menu options and style of serving is a first step in choosing a restaurant. It may be difficult to know exactly which restaurant is safe however with research and communication with the right people you can find an option that works. Next we explain how to research and communicate with restaurant personnel to find a safe place to eat out.

Which is safer? A national chain or family owned restaurant. The answer depends on whether the owner or manager and the entire restaurant staff have experience in preparing, cooking, and serving foods without the allergens that you are avoiding. Your next step is to narrow your restaurant choices by searching online and looking over restaurant web sites. Look for the following: special allergen menus targeting certain food allergies; a nutritional page listing the ingredients of their menu items; and the menu options. Many restaurants these days also mention whether they have gluten free or allergen free options available. Some may say that they cannot make substitutions. The website is a great place to start your research. It is also helpful to learn the common ingredients in your favorite dishes; review some recipes and look for allergens. The more you know what to expect, the better your chances are for a fun and safe experience. Next step is to talk with trusted friends and family who know what foods you need to avoid and to see if they have any suggestions. Perhaps you belong to a food allergy support group? This is a great place to ask about safe and unsafe restaurants.

After you finish your web research, it is best to follow up with a phone call. The best time to call is during the restaurant’s slow hours so you can have the manager’s full attention. When you talk to the manager, concisely explain your allergies and ask if the restaurant will be able to accommodate you. The answer will tell you whether you need to continue the conversation. Some questions to consider: Does the food arrive at the restaurant prepared? If so, it will be very difficult for you to obtain accurate ingredients, unless original packaging is available for you to review. Does the kitchen staff and wait staff have experience in making accommodations to avoid your food allergen? Can they prepare, cook, and serve your special order without the possibility of cross contamination. If so, ask what they do to make sure this happens. When is the best time for your family to visit the restaurant to make sure your dining experience is safe and enjoyable? Usually the answer is during slow times and days. If the manager fully understands he or she will be able to answer these questions and more.

Before you visit the restaurant: Be sure to pack and bring emergency medicine, cell phone, and food allergy action plan; there is no guarantee that a restaurant will be safe. Consider bringing chef cards, which list specific allergies, can be made or purchased online; these are another way to communicate your needs. If there are only one or two safe choices and no safe desserts, let your child know what to expect before you go. Bring safe food including dessert for your child as a back up plan. If possible, visit the restaurant when it is not as busy. This will make it easier for the restaurant to accommodate your special needs.

After you arrive at the restaurant ask your host or hostess if there is a special menu with suggested items for those with allergies. Request to speak to the manager and introduce yourself especially if you have already spoken on the phone. This is a good time to discuss your allergens and to ask again whether your needs can be accommodated. As soon as you meet your server, discuss your allergens, the requirements for a safe meal, and whether you have already spoken to the restaurant owner or manager. Ask again whether they can accommodate you. If you don’t feel comfortable with the answers your server gives you, ask to speak to the manager again or the chef before ordering. If you still don’t feel comfortable, excuse yourself politely and find another restaurant. Just because you took a seat; it does not obligate you to eat there. Safety should be your first priority.

When placing your order discuss options with your server. Remember to ask about preparation and cooking methods like grilled foods since there may be cheese, fish, or other allergen residue from previously grilled foods on the grill. When ordering fried foods inquire about what type of oil is used and also what else is cooked in the fryer; there may be cross contamination. Ask whether desserts are made off site since dessert can harbor cross contamination, especially for those with peanut tree nut, dairy, egg, soy, and wheat allergies. Watch out for hidden allergens. Here are some questions to consider… Was the food marinated? Brined? Rubbed in spices, butter, or other ingredients? What are the ingredients in prepared meats like hot dogs, lunch meat, and sausage? Is the salad dressing also allergen free, or just the salad? Is the salad already prepared with croutons? Ask about preparation…How do they prepare the food? Do they use shared utensils, cutlery, cutting boards and cookware or do they wash in the dishwasher after each use? Be specific about your food request; it is not enough to say “I am allergic to dairy and nuts”. For example ask for ‘chicken sautéed in a clean pan, with olive oil – salt – and pepper, using separate clean utensils and new gloves.’ To be safe make sure the wait staff can read your specific instructions back to you.

Once the food arrives, do one more check. Verify with the server that this is indeed the allergen free meal you ordered. Visually inspect the food; is there breading or sauce or other ingredient you did not expect. If there is, ask the server to clarify before eating anything. If the order is wrong, send it back and ask for the manager to assist if necessary.

If you had a great experience, let your server know and tip accordingly. Talk to the manager about things that went well, and what could be improved. Your feedback will help the next customer with food allergies have a good experience. Here’s a tip for ordering food from carry out restaurants, before you leave the restaurant or drive away from the window, take a moment to inspect the food to ensure your order was cooked to specification. Remember – all the same questions and discussions need to be made before ordering from a carry out or delivery style restaurant.

Thanks for taking our eating out with food allergies course. Please visit us at www.allergyfreetable.com for more courses and information. If you have any questions or feedback, please email us at info@allergyfreetable.com And don’t forget to follow us on Facebook and share this course there. Bye for now and enjoy your meals out!

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