How to Eat Out Safely When You Have a Food Allergy

If you have a food allergy, a little advance planning can keep you safe the next time you go to a restaurant. Follow these tips to make sure you're served a trouble-free meal.

Get Ready

Research. Call ahead to the restaurant. See if the kitchen can your handle your needs. Check out the menu online. The SafeFARE website can help you find restaurants that are "allergy-aware," which means the staff has training in food allergies.

Choose cuisine carefully. Certain allergy triggers are more likely in some types of food. Thai and Chinese restaurants, for example, often use peanut oil. Anything you order in a seafood restaurant has a higher risk of being contaminated with fish or shellfish.

Eat during off-hours. Try not to go to a restaurant when it's crowded. It's harder to talk to the manager or chef during busy times. The kitchen staff is more likely to make a mistake when things are hectic.

Be prepared for emergencies. If you have severe allergies, always have two epinephrine injection kits (such as Adrenaclick, Auvi-Q, EpiPen, a generic auto-injector, or Symjepi) with you when you eat out.

Talk to the Staff

Don't be embarrassed. There's nothing awkward or rude about explaining your allergy or making special requests. Most restaurants deal with food allergies all the time.

Be up-front. The first time the waiter comes to your table, explain that you have a condition. Make clear that even a tiny amount of the food could make you sick. If you need to, speak to the manager or chef directly.

Have info to give out. Some people carry cards to hand out that have a brief explanation of their food allergy for the kitchen staff.

Ask about cross contamination. Make sure your food won't come into contact with whatever you're allergic to in the kitchen. Ask that the chef use a clean skillet and utensils and fresh oil.

If you're not completely confident, leave. Go somewhere else if you don't think the waiter understood you, or that the food is prepared as you expected. There's no way you'll have a good time if you're worrying.

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How to Order and Eat

Go simple. Remember that simply prepared dishes with fewer ingredients are less likely to cause problems. Be careful when you order sauces, desserts, fried foods, and marinades. They can have unexpected ingredients.

Skip salad bar and buffet. Because of spills or shared utensils, the odds are high that you'll come into contact with your allergy trigger.

Send it back if you need to. When your meal comes, look at it closely to make sure it's what you ordered. Don't be afraid to send it back. Tell the waiter that you could still get a reaction even if the kitchen staff picks out the foods you're allergic to -- like nuts -- and returns the plate to you.

Pack your own food. It's a good idea if you have to go to a restaurant that can't work with you. Explain that you have a serious medical condition and don't have a choice.

It means a lot to have a safe restaurant that you can rely on. So if you have a good experience at one, thank the staff. Leave a nice tip. They might remember you -- and help you avoid food allergy triggers in the future.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Sabrina Felson, MD on June 25, 2019

Sources

SOURCES:

American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology: "Taking Your Food Allergies Out to Dinner."

Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America New England Chapter: "Dining Out."

Consortium of Food Allergy Research: "Restaurants and Food Allergy."

Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network: "How to Read a Label,"  "Tips for Dining Out with Food Allergies."

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