What I Wish I Knew…
Eating at restaurants is a life-threatening risk not worth taking!
Are you one who loves to eat out at restaurants? That desire is natural – to have someone wait on you; to have a variety of food choices; to not have to clean up the mess! But when you live in a food allergy world, you have to completely rethink that desire. Sure the occasional eating out is not a big issue, but it cannot be (or no longer be) the primary source of your meals.
There are many risks involved in eating at restaurants when you live with food allergies.
- Cross-Contamination: It is real and it is dangerous! My son has personal experience with this when we were on vacation a couple of years ago. You can read the account of that anaphylactic experience here.
- Unknown Ingredients: In most cases at restaurants, you will not be able to read food packaging labels. Having learned and practiced the reading of labels at the grocery store, you know the variations that exist within food groups and across manufacturers.
- Truth in Menu: You never know when a dish might be changed for whatever reason without the menu reflecting that change. Case in point: I was told by a pharmacist (when refilling my son’s epi pen prescription after his vacation anaphylactic experience noted above) about a friend of his who died from eating peanuts at the only restaurant he ever knew to be allergy safe and enjoy. On that particular evening, a substitute chef was cooking the meals and added peanuts to his previously safe dish.
There will be times, for whatever reason, when you are forced to eat at a restaurant.
- Check the menu online ahead of time.
- Talk to your server about your allergy restrictions and hope they comply. (While many people take this approach, it makes me nervous. Note the points above.)
- Visit the website AllergyEats. I have a link on my sidebar. This is a great resource of professional and personal experiences at chain and private restaurants across the country. You can leave your own experience of a restaurant’s allergy friendliness as well.
- When in doubt, pack alternative allergy-friendly food and bring it. This is most often what I do for my son and I have never had any problems. (More on this issue next week.)
- When all else fails, go the obvious route and order the most basic item on the menu, even if it’s raw carrots or plain lettuce It will do the job of filling your tummy, but more importantly, it may keep you safe. Of course, be aware of the above risks though.
- Always, always, always have your rescue medication with you! You never know when the risk you take in a restaurant will end up being a bad choice. Keep yourself or your child alive with rescue medication.
Do you have a positive or negative experience with restaurants and living with food allergies? We’d love to hear any advice you have to offer.
Next week, we’ll tackle the topic of how you should respond when you are met with difficulty in a restaurant due to your food allergies.