Having a food allergy used to mean dining out was near impossible, but as awareness is increasing eating out is becoming a lot easier and safer.
New EU allergen labelling regulations are coming into force on 13th December 2014 which will make it even easier for food allergy suffers to know what is in their food. Although regulations have been in place for packaged food for a while, the new legislation (FIR Regs EU1169/2011) will require restaurants, cafes etc. to clearly state whether the 14 most common allergens are present in their dishes. The law will also require staff to have more training in order to understand the requirements of food allergic customers and how to prevent cross contamination.
Even after the regulations come into force, it is important for allergy sufferers to plan ahead when it comes to eating out. Here, Chartwell Insurance, a completely independent insurance broker that offers a specialist, caring service for disabled customers, takes a look at important issues to consider and plan for when eating out with a food allergy.
- Ask around for recommendations and do your research. Speak to others who have similar allergies, research on the internet in forums and on the restaurant website, etc. to see if the restaurant looks suitable for your specific requirements. Where possible, look at a menu before you visit.
- Look for restaurants that best fit what you can eat. For example, bakeries are risky for wheat or gluten allergy sufferers, buffets can also pose a high risk of cross-contamination and accidental exposure to a range of allergens.
- Call ahead and mention your allergy at the time of booking the restaurant. Where possible, talk to the manager or chef to get an idea of whether they will be able to cater for you and what options are available. Food Allergy Research and Education has compiled some sample questions you could ask on its website.
- Carry with you medical identification, such as ID cards or jewellery, so that in case of an emergency your condition can be quickly identified and treated.
- Remind staff of your allergy at the time of being seated at your table so that they can give you the allergy information or separate menu, where available. When the new legislation is in force the allergen information for each dish should be clearly and readily available.
- There are a number of information cards or ‘chef cards’ available. These are usually wallet-sized, and list your allergies and the kinds of things you can and cannot eat. These can also be found in different languages for abroad travel, for example these gluten free ones. Allergy information cards can then be handed to the chef along with your order.
- When you order, ask whether the waiter/waitress can check with the chef that your meal will be suitable for your allergy, and give them your information card if you have one. Double check when your meal comes out that it is the correct one. If anything doesn’t look right or if you are unsure of its suitability then query with the restaurant staff.
- Despite being ultra vigilant, issues can happen, so ensure you have any relevant medication, such as EpiPen injectors, with you and that the people you are with are aware of what to do in an emergency.
This is not designed to act as medical advice and you should always follow the advice of your GP or dietitian as to how best treat and manage your food allergy.