Food Allergies: Tips for Eating Out
Whether you're trying to avoid peanuts or dairy products, experts offer strategies for dining safely at restaurants.
Food Allergy Surprises: Hidden Sources
Here are the most likely places key food allergens may be lurking, according
to the experts WebMD interviewed.
Hidden sources: hot dogs, canned tuna, some chewing gum, margarine
made from corn oil (skim milk powder), granola bars, chocolate chips, desserts
containing caramel coloring, brown-sugar flavoring, coconut-cream flavoring,
natural chocolate flavoring, grilled steak (many restaurants rub steaks with
butter after grilling).
Hidden sources: Milky Way or Snickers bars (nougat contains eggs);
any baked good with a shiny surface, including bagels and pretzels; the foam on
some coffee drinks; the pasta in prepared foods such as soups.
Hidden sources: Barbecue sauce, bouillon, chili (nuts are used
sometimes as thickener).
Hidden sources: Hydrolyzed wheat protein is sometimes listed only as
a flavor enhancer or binder in prepared foods and sauces, alcoholic beverages,
hot dogs, ice cream cones, licorice, soup mixes, coffee creamer
substitutes (grain based), butter flavoring, caramel coloring, some brands of
Hidden sources: Caesar salad (anchovies); caponata (Italian
relish/anchovies); foods fortified with omega-3 fatty acids (fish source),
including some orange juice, baby cereals, and soymilk.
Choosing a Restaurant
While what you order is important, where you order it matters, too. That's
because some restaurants are more likely to not only accommodate your food
allergy, but also be better educated on how best to do that.
Not surprisingly, Fischer says that the larger and more established a
restaurant is, the more likely it has dealt with food allergies in the past. So
the staff is less likely to be surprised or thrown by your requests.
Other good alternatives are corporate chain restaurants -- places like Olive
Garden, Applebee's, or Ruby Tuesday. Fischer says chains often have tighter
controls on their menus and ingredients than independently owned restaurants,
so the staff is more likely to know exactly what's in each dish.
Field agrees. "While a local mom-and-pop restaurant may be more likely
to veer from the norm in an effort to please you, there is also more
variability in these places, so the dish may not be cooked the same way twice,
and that can be a problem," he says.
And while not every restaurant staff can tell you exactly what's in every
dish (many chain establishments use precooked foods that are only heated on
site), most of their corporate web sites provide either a menu listing major
ingredients or an email address where you can access specific recipe
information. Some, like Olive Garden, provide recipes online so you can find
out exactly what is in the food on the menu.