NEWARK—As the incidence of food allergies continues to rise, families are often concerned about dining out. More than 12 millions Americans, including 6 percent of children, are affected by allergies to tree nuts, peanuts, seeds, milk, eggs, fish, shellfish, soy, and wheat, the most common food allergens. By taking some precautions before visiting a restaurant, families can reduce the risk of exposure to a food allergen and enjoy a night out.
“There are families that are so consumed by fear of the allergy that they avoid eating out all together,” says Joel Mendelson, MD, Director, Division of Allergy/ Immunology at Children’s Hospital of New Jersey at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center. “Having a child with food allergies can drastically affect the life style of the whole family. We hope that these suggestions for visiting a restaurant will help them overcome that fear and address the issue in a way that ensures safe eating. Fortunately the food service industry has a growing awareness of food allergies and many restaurants will accommodate for food allergies.”
An allergic reaction is triggered when the immune system mistakenly overreacts to a food that it thinks is a harmful invader. This causes symptoms that may appear within seconds to hours after eating a trigger food. Most allergic reactions are mild, causing sneezing, itching skin, hives, and digestive upset. For those who are severely allergic exposure to a trigger food may cause life-threatening reactions. The tongue, lips, or throat may swell so severely that the person cannot breath. Death will occur without immediate medical help. Sudden severe allergic reactions to food cause 200 deaths annually in the U.S.
Reducing the Fear of Dining Out
Children’s Hospital of New Jersey and Rutgers University’s Department of Nutritional Sciences and Food Policy Institute, offer this action plan for eating out.
Ahead of Time
• It may be best to choose a few restaurants with which you establish a relationship.
• Call the restaurant ahead of time to see how they can meet your needs. While food is typically made when you order it, many components are prepped ahead of time. Meats are often marinated ahead of time and those marinades may contain an allergen that you are avoiding.
• It will be easier to communicate with the chef over the phone than at the restaurant while he or she is in the middle of a busy mealtime rush.
• Take along allergy medications, including an Epipen, a portable injection which allows people with allergies to administer epinephrine in case of emergency.
At the Restaurant
• Order Allergen-Free Meals
• Tell the server about the food allergy.
• Ask about ingredients and food preparation.
• Make sure the chef knows about the allergy.
• Consider dining earlier or later than usual mealtimes might mean that more attention will be paid to you and your food.
Help Keep Meals Allergen-Free
• Keep meals simple — allergens often hide in sauces, soups, soufflés and dressings.
• Beware of deep-fried foods — oil may contain allergens from other foods.
• Ask the kitchen to start fresh — clean hands, gloves, workspace, utensils, pans, and dishes.
Ask Before You Eat: Were Meals Kept Allergen-Free?
• Confirm that the meal served was prepared as requested.
• Ask for a fresh meal if there are any doubts.
• Be polite and reward excellent service.
• Enjoy an allergen-free meal every time!
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