Rule #1: There are never too many questions you can ask about food you are about to consume. That was the number one lesson my parents instilled in me about eating out.
I have been allergic to peanuts since I was 16 months old. My parents started teaching me very young to be vocal about my allergies regardless of where I was. To this day, I have no idea how they let me go to kindergarten by myself, knowing I could unknowingly put my allergen into my mouth. Yet, here I am, turning 28 next month and have yet to have an anaphylactic reaction to peanuts since I was 16 months old. It might seem crazy. But I am insanely vigilant to avoid risks when at all possible.
I suggest following the follow basic precautions when choosing to dine out (or eating with family and friends):
1) Carry your auto-injector: Always, always, always carry your auto-injector. This cannot be stressed enough. There are so many sad stories about individuals who did not have their auto-injector with them to treat a reaction.
2) Call before you go: After checking the menu online, call the restaurant and ask to speak with someone from the kitchen. Find out if they use your allergen in the kitchen. If so, ask what dishes. If they do say ‘yes’, I always ask how they deal with cross-contamination and if they can use fresh utensils and ingredients when preparing my food. Just the other day, I had a chef actually thank me for calling to ask before coming. He mentioned that he wished more people would do that.
3) Don’t be afraid to speak up: I usually scan the menu as soon as I get to the restaurant and pick out an option to eat. When my dining companions and I order drinks, I ask my server to check my selected meal with the kitchen in regards to my allergies. This way, I do not feel awkward making my friends or family wait when checking about my allergies. Remember, if you do not feel comfortable dining at the establishment you chose, it is okay to say no to eating there.
4) Plan ahead: I always carry snacks and plan where I am going to eat as best possible. If I cannot plan that for various reasons, then I try to select a restaurant specializing in a food type that I generally can eat (for me that’s Italian and Greek).
5) Alternate planning: If you plan to cook a meal with friends, this does not mitigate the odds of cross-contamination. Always mention your allergies and take whatever precautions you need to in order to stay safe; I get that this can feel like a burden. But your friends will understand.
Eating out with allergies does not need to hamper your fun. As with managing every other avenue of life with allergies, be smart!