Dining out with food allergies can be a very daunting task. A quick search for online articles about dining out and food allergies reveals stories that range from some discomfort on the drive home to consequences far more severe.
_Part of the reason why eating out can be so difficult for food allergy sufferers is that while YOU know about your allergy, the staff that prepares your food does not. Complicating matters even more, food is generally not prepared by only one person. So any given dish may have as many as 2-4 people, including a server who have some contact with your meal. Further complicating the matter is that with some very severe allergies, any contact with the allergen can have dramatic consequences.
_So what can you do? You can avoid eating out, and for those with very severe allergies, that is likely the best alternative. You can try food allergy cards. While they are not a comprehensive solution, they do quickly and conveniently let your server and staff know about your food allergy in advance.
_ Another alternative is to select your dining choice carefully. As awareness of food allergies grows, so does the response by the food service industry. Even some state legislatures have begun to require certain training and staff at restaurants to help create a safer environment for all diners. While Massachusetts is currently the only state to require specific allergy training, Rhode Island is soon to join them. Even some large chains have begun to move in this direction.
_Noted recently in a Wall Street Journal article, The Melting Pot has taken very specific actions in regard to customers with food allergies. From separate food preparation and serving dishes to staff training and sanitization procedures, The Melting Pot is attempting to cater to an ever growing clientele with food allergies.
_While food allergy training and transparency about the ingredients used in dishes is growing, there are still hurdles to overcome. As noted in the WSJ article, Domino's rolled out a gluten-free pizza. The problem is that the designation as gluten-free couldn't actually be proven. Facing the same and likely largest hurdle when it comes to dealing with food allergies in restaurants, Domino's couldn't ensure that no cross-contamination would occur.
_Short of eliminating common reaction inducing foods, like wheat, peanuts, dairy, tree nuts, shellfish, and eggs, restaurants are struggling with cross-contamination issues. Take a fryer for instance. If you deep fry something breaded then follow that with french fries for a customer who has a severe wheat allergy, there can be serious trouble ahead. For severe allergies, even trace amounts of the allergen can create a life or death situation.
_So we come back to, what can you do? As the number of food allergy sufferers increases annually, the best answer is prepare and remain vigilant. Restaurateurs continue to adapt and change to serve the needs of this growing population, but they remain far their goal. As individual, prepare for the worst, but with careful planning and open communication with your server and the restaurant staff, you can avoid or at least minimize the risk of having the ‘dining experience from hell.’
_Author: Kevin Gilmore