Posted on 25 Jun 14:24

Living Liteful: Dining with Food Allergies

Liteful Foods Gluten Free Blog - Living Liteful: Dining with Food Allergies

Living Liteful: Dining with Food Allergies

written by Karen Newberry

Dealing with food allergies is incredibly tough. Day to day life and simply existing is a challenge. But then add vacation, children's birthday parties, packing a lunch, or even just going to a restaurant -- it makes it nearly impossible. So having a slew of allergies myself and a kiddo that is almost an exact clone of me with his food allergies - I deal with this on the regular. 

Food allergies and restaurants are a couple things I know quite well. I have over twenty years experience in restaurants and the last thirteen years with a variety of food allergies that constantly grows. I have learned so much about my allergies and all the allergic reactions that can occur when something sneaks into your meal you did not expect. Everything from the secret ingredient to the garnish can not only ruin your meal, but ruin your entire day. So I will cover topics on what can cause a reaction and how you can educate and inform restaurant staff so you can avoid the whole issue altogether.

Be Wary of Cross Contamination

Cross Contamination is always my main cause of concern. It is probably the easiest way for people to have a reaction. It can come from knives, cutting boards, shared cooking equipment, gloves, hands, towels, or storage containers that have not been properly cleaned and kept safe.

Be Serious About Your Requests

Finding a safe restaurant is hard, I avoid going during peak times when kitchen staff is more likely to miss your personal request or plate modification (or perhaps too busy to care). A lot of restaurant staff take may not take your food allergies seriously (be prepared for the eye -roll). But that's not entirely their fault.

There's a large amount of diners out there who claim they have food allergies just because they don't like an ingredient. When waiting tables I have dealt with these kinds of guest. They make requests like: “No tomatoes, because I’m allergic". Then when the food hits the table... they ask for ketchup. 

This makes it hard to get the kitchen to pay attention when the allergies are real, so I do it by informing them of what is needed to keep me safe by letting my server know how serious it is. I may go as far to tell them that I carry an Epipen on me at all times. I ask the server to inform the kitchen to change gloves and cook my food in a clean pan - not on a grill or the flat top.

Watch Out for Sneaky Hidden Allergens

I try to order things that don't need to be prepared with extra ingredients. I stick to steak, chicken, and veggies. Oh, and I always ask if they are marinated. Always ask. Never assume. Things like salad dressing or marinades are items that can have hidden ingredients like gluten or soy (these ingredients are not typically listed on the menu). Thankfully I have navigated kitchens and menu writing long enough that I know not everything is listed nor does the staff always know.

Running restaurants has given me the opportunity to teach staff about cross contamination and the serious effects it can have on people with allergies. Teaching my staff to change gloves when they see a ticket with an allergy modification, to use a specific cutting board and knife for items like gluten free bread or buns, and keeping part of the griddle free from buns and toast. Properly cleaning and sanitizing surfaces - using a towel that has not been used to wipe off bread crumbs and so many glove changes. We also implemented a "CELIAC!" button in the order system that notifies the kitchen that a person has an allergy and extra care should be given. I encourage other restaurants to adopt similar measures.

Dealing with allergies is certainly a challenge but please understand that it isn't impossible. There are many people out there who deal with this on a daily basis so you aren't alone! I hope these tips can help you stay safe while eating out and avoid some of the challenges of dining out that allergies cause.

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