Having a food allergy used to mean dining out was limited to carrying your
plate from the kitchen to the porch or, at best, eating at the home of a close
friend or relative who could guarantee your food offenders were nowhere in
Today, however, eating out is a lot easier -- and safer -- for the 2 million
Americans who suffer with a mild, moderate, or even a severe food
allergy. One reason: Restaurants are more aware and more prepared.
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"The awareness of food allergies has definitely increased within the
food service industry, and many restaurants now take steps to not only train
their staff about the need for accommodating those with a food allergy, but
also train them on what to do if an allergic reaction occurs," says John W.
Fischer, associate professor and restaurant manager of Escoffier Restaurant
at The Culinary Institute of America.
Among the most important steps in this direction is a training program for
restaurants introduced by the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network (FAAN) and
The National Restaurant Association several years ago.
Developed as both an educational and informational tool, the program not
only helps make restaurants more aware of food allergies, but also what to do
in the event that an allergy-related incident occurs.
Medical doctors caution, however, that greater awareness on the part of the
restaurant doesn't mean you can let your guard down
"The level with which you practice vigilance is obviously linked to the
severity of your food allergy -- but everyone who is allergic needs to
personally take steps to ensure their safety when dining out," says David
Rosenstreich, MD, director of the division of allergy and immunology at
Montefiore Medical Center and professor of medicine at the Albert Einstein
College of Medicine in New York.
Where do you begin? Experts say it starts with a good understanding of your
(If you have food
allergies, do you eat out? How do you keep yourself safe? Share with others
on WebMD's Allergies: Support Group message board.)
Food Allergies: Know What to Avoid
Clearly, the most obvious way to avoid having a food allergy reaction while
eating out is not to order the offending food. But that's not always so easy.
Sometimes you can’t fully see what you're getting on your plate.
"You really have to be aware of hidden ingredients. Your allergen could
be lurking in breading, a salad dressing, baked goods, or sauces, then it might
not be obvious when your meal arrives," says Jonathan Field, MD, director
of the Allergy and Asthma Clinic at NYU Medical Center and Bellevue Medical
Center in New York.
You should also know the other names for your offending foods. Sometimes,
Rosenstreich says, products used by chefs -- such as mixes for sauces or
dressings -- list ingredients by alternate names. That means if you're going to
request that something be left out of a dish, it's vital to know all the terms,
including derivatives under which your allergen may be listed.