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Eating Out with Food Allergies

Eating Out and allergies

More than 12 million Americans have food allergies. These allergies include peanuts or tree nuts, seafood, milk, eggs, and wheat (gluten). Food allergy related reactions result in an estimated 30,000 emergency room visits each year. The reactions result in an estimated 200-300 deaths each year.

Eating at home is easier than dining out. At home, with careful reading of the government-mandated labels on purchased food, it is easier to know if any ingredients that might “spark” a reaction are present. With the 2006 federal Food Allergen Labeling & Consumer Protection Act, food manufactures are required to declare food allergens in plain language on their ingredient lists. So look for wording such as “contains eggs” or “prepared on machinery that may have been in contact with peanuts or cashews”.

Eating out, it is much more difficult. Menus don’t list every ingredient. Check the restaurants menu in advance. Many are listed on their websites. Call ahead and ask if they can accommodate your food allergy. Be polite, but speak up about your allergy. Ask questions of your waiter or ask to speak to the chef.

Educate yourself about where your particular allergen might be lurking. Here are some examples:

> Italian restaurants often use pine nuts in their pesto.

> Tiramisu uses an almond paste.

> Peanuts are frequent spice elements in Caribbean cuisine.

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> Mexican restaurants may use nuts in their sauces – mole, for example.

> Ask about the oil used for frying the foods. Often peanut oil is used as a way to reduce cholesterol and trans fats.

> If you are allergic to seafood, don’t go to seafood restaurants. Even if you have the chicken, it may have been fried in the same oil as the shrimp. You may get some cross-contact or cross-contamination.

> Be careful of buffets. The food items are close to one another. Another good chance of cross-contamination.

> Same with bakeries where the nut containing pastry may sit next to the plain donut.

> Order simple dishes. A baked potato or steamed broccoli. Little chance of problems with “hidden” ingredients. Ask for your garnishes to be served on the side.

Check out the publication “Welcoming Guests with Food Allergies to Restaurants” at the Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network. The guide is free.

Tips About Eating Out

Center for Disease Control and Prevention
Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network