Tag Archives: Eating out with allergies

Food Allergies at Hockey Games

Being Canadian and growing up in a family that both plays and loves hockey, I have been to my fair share of hockey games throughout my life. Whether it is at a local rink watching my brothers play or watching the Toronto Maple Leafs at the Air Canada Centre, I have always enjoyed the classic Canadian sport. At most hockey arenas, food is typically served, which brings an inherent risk for those with allergies, but if you make sure you play it safe you can enjoy a hockey night in Canada live in action.

I can only speak to my NHL game experience here in Toronto so make sure you check out your local arena before attending a game!

  1. There are a lot of options for food

Most arenas will have a wide variety of fast food options for you to choose from. They can range from your classic hot dogs and pizza to poutine and gourmet burgers. There are typically stands that are owned by the arena itself and often common fast food chains will have booths there as well. Therefore, you should have lots to choose from and might have some familiar brands that you know are safe to eat from.

  1. Plan ahead

If you know you won’t have a meal at home prior to attending the game, take a quick look at the website of the arena you are going to. Most of them will have information on their food services and will list what food vendors are there. This can help you plan an allergy-friendly meal in advance.

A bowl of popcorn with a glass of soda at a sports game.

  1. See if you can bring your own food

A simple internet search should give you some helpful information about food allergies at the arena. For example, the Air Canada Centre has a page on their website stating that fans with food allergies are permitted to bring their own food in and warn that they do sell peanuts in the arena.

  1. Be on the look out

Peanuts are not only a very common allergen, they are also commonly found at sporting events. Since most venues will likely not be peanut-free, if you are allergic to peanuts make sure to take a quick scan of the area around you to see if anybody is eating them. You are attending any game at your own risk, but if you are with a group of friends you can ask to switch seats to keep you away from any nuts.

  1. Have fun!

Going to watch the good ol’ hockey game is all about having fun and supporting your home team. Don’t let your food allergies limit you from attending a game!

– Lindsay S.

Travelling Across the Pond to England and Ireland with a Food Allergy

Hello mates! This summer I travelled across the pond to the beautiful, historically rich countries of England and Ireland, where I spent two weeks sightseeing with my family. As they were English-speaking countries, travelling with a food allergy was much easier since there was no language barrier to overcome when communicating my allergies. That being said, I still needed to take precautions, starting with flights and accommodations.

Silhouette of passenger in an airport lounge waiting for flight aircraft

Beforehand, I called the airline to advise them that I would be travelling with them and they kindly noted my allergies and set up a buffer zone, which allowed me to feel comfortable and safe over the duration of the flight. I truly appreciate that airlines are putting more procedures in place and are taking precautions to accommodate allergic-individuals. I recommend that you too check the different airline policies prior to booking. I also made sure to pack lots of food and snacks for the flight as well as extra snacks for the remainder of my trip, such as granola bars and individually packed oatmeal. Most importantly, I packed four Epi-Pens®. It’s better to be over-prepared than under-prepared, especially when you are overseas.

When it came to accommodations, I stayed in a “flat” as the British say, or an apartment-style room that contained a full kitchen. I also made sure to choose a flat that had a grocery store nearby so I would have easy accessibility to pick up essentials. I was greatly surprised to see that they pre-package all their fresh produce in addition to breads and other snacks. I was also surprised to see that all packaged food had extremely clear and detailed ingredient labels with priority allergens bolded. This definitely made me feel comfortable that the foods were safe, as they also clearly outlined which foods were not suitable for individuals with certain allergies. When travelling, I stick with making breakfast in the room and packing a lunch, so that I only have to worry about eating out once a day for dinner. Not only is this safer, but it’s also healthier, more cost-efficient, and less time-consuming! When it comes to eating out for dinner, I like to ask for the menu and look through the items, seeing if there is an option on the menu that’s allergy-safe. I soon learned that the menus at restaurants also made allergens easily seen as they used a universal coding system. Nevertheless, I still made sure to explain my allergies and the notion of cross-contamination to the servers and restaurant managers. I found that most restaurants and food service staff were aware of severe allergies, cross-contamination, dietary restrictions, and the precautions they need to take to ensure the safety of their customers. If I felt uneasy about a restaurant, my family and I simply relocated to another that we felt more comfortable with.

View of a vintage restaurant menu on a rustic wood background

Additionally, there are a few interesting things I encountered on this trip. While in the UK, I learned that traditionally, fish and chips are fried using peanut oil. Make sure to always ask the server what oil they use in their fryer before trying this traditional British dish. Also, while visiting popular tourist spots such as Big Ben and the Tower Bridge, I noticed a lot of stands of the street selling roasted tree nuts. These stands were not enclosed, allowing the nuts to fall onto the surrounding area. My family and I made sure to keep an eye out for these stands to make sure I was a safe distance away from them. Also, be mindful of fellow tourists around you who may be eating the nuts and disposing the shells around them. This could lead to an unwanted cross-contamination scenario.

Furthermore, if you’re a coffee-enthusiast (like me), you’re aware of the increasing popularity of almond milk. I always make sure to ask the barista if they use almond milk before ordering, and let them know about my allergy and ask about potential cross-contamination. I was happy to find two coffee chains I could rely on, as they did not have almond milk on their menu: Caffè Nero and Pret A Manger. I also learned that Caffè Nero had a wide variety of pre-packed sandwiches with ingredient labels outlining the priority allergens in bold, just like the products in the grocery store. It was nice to be able to grab and treat myself to a peanut and tree nut-safe sandwich on-the-go. Having these allergy-friendly chains at my disposal was very convenient as I was guaranteed to find a location near any major tourist attraction.

Overall, travelling to England and Ireland with an allergy was very manageable, and I would definitely recommend adding them to your travel-list!

– Michelle D.

Travels to Peru- Allergies Included

From stunning mountain tops, to lush rainforests and deep canyons, combined with a remarkable history, rich culture, and of course Machu Picchu itself—the hard question is, what isn’t calling you to Peru? South America has long been on my list of places to visit with Peru at the top of countries to explore within this vast continent. So needless to say, as soon as the time was right, I purchased my ticket! While travelling to a new country in a continent you’ve never been to causes a great deal of excitement and anticipation, it also leaves you with some unknowns to be discovered. This holds especially true when travelling with food allergies. With that said, I am a firm believer that you should not let your food allergies hold you back from new and exciting experiences! I found that with the right preparation, I was able to accommodate my allergies to wheat, eggs, and peanuts, and not have my allergies hold me back from making the most of my travels to Peru!

Llama in front of ancient inca town of Machu Picchu
Llama in front of ancient inca town of Machu Picchu

When planning any trip/vacation there is always extensive preparations beforehand. From booking your flights, to nailing down your itinerary, and of course packing a strategic suitcase, there is always something to be planned or done. Of course, there is always an extra degree of planning when you have to consider your allergies. Whenever I am picking a country to travel to, I need to look up what their typical cuisine is and assess the likelihood of finding some allergen-friendly food options. I found that when researching common Peruvian dishes, most consisted of grilled meats, potatoes (over 300 varieties…yay!), grilled vegetables, quinoa, and soups. Luckily, most of these work well with my wheat, egg, and peanut-free diet! I also ensure that whenever I am travelling to another country where English is not the primary language spoken, that I bring my allergy cards.  These allergy cards are laminated cards that I’ve ordered online which are the size of business cards and state in whatever language I order (in this case Spanish): my allergies, pictures of the specific food allergens, and also feature a specific card that states I need immediate medical attention and need to be taken to a hospital where they speak English. I’ve used these cards in the past in Tanzania, Nepal, and throughout Europe and have had very positive results. I also like to always have Google Translate on my phone, as another means of translation if needed.

When it comes to planning my itinerary, I again take some extra considerations. For this particular trip to Peru, the first part of my trip that I planned was a four-day trek.  When researching trekking companies, I considered their ability to accommodate dietary restrictions. The company I decided on was one that actually asked clients to list their dietary restrictions on their initial intake form. After further communication with this company they assured me that they regularly accommodated food allergies and would be able to provide meals during the trek that would be allergen-safe.  Since this trek was only four days out of my two weeks of travelling, when I was planning what other cities and sites I would be visiting, I also looked up what health services were closest and the presence of any English-speaking hospitals. I kept a log of the name and locations of these hospitals and health services hoping not to ever actually need them, but knowing just in case!

Holiday suitcase

Finally, when it came to packing for my trip, along with trying to strategically fit enough clothes and supplies for two weeks in one hikers backpack I also ensured I packed allergy-friendly snacks for what I thought might last the better part of two weeks as well as multiples of my auto-injector as well as anti-histamine pills.

After months of lead up, the day of my trip finally arrived!  After two long plane rides I arrived safe and sound in the city of Cusco— a city in southeastern Peru.  This is the city you are likely to visit if you are trekking to or planning to visit Machu Picchu.  Due to the popularity of Machu Picchu, Cusco is a city that is very traveller-friendly.  I spent two and a half days in Cusco as I acclimatized to the high altitudes. During my stay, I found I was able to eat out with relative ease with waiter or waitresses either able to speak English or by using my allergy cards. One of my favourite restaurants had to be a place that specialized in vegetarian/vegan dishes and used only organic ingredients grown in the sacred valley (and believe it or not, this was also probably one of my cheapest meals eating out!!).

After the two and a half days spent in Cusco it was time for some trekking!  The trail that I hiked is known as the Salkantay trail and is a 64 km hike over three days that leads you to the base of Machu Picchu, where on the fourth day you actually spend the entire day visiting Machu Picchu. The trek was everything I could have wanted and more. The days were tough first hiking up through the Andean Mountains until finally reaching the Salkantay Pass and then hiking down into the forested valleys below.  Every type of weather and degree of temperature seemed to be experienced and every form of clothing worn. The scenery and dramatic landscapes were absolutely spectacular and humbling at the same time, not to mention made every blister and worn out muscle worth it. Food wise, I always had food options I could eat on my trip. While the trekking company provided breakfast, lunch, and dinner, which I was able to eat, they also provided trekkers with a snack— which I found more often than not I could not eat. I definitely under-estimated how many granola bars I would go through while hiking 20+ km a day. One near miss at the end of my trip came after my trek was finished and when I was out for dinner and drinks with my fellow trekkers. Arguably the most popular alcoholic drink in Peru is known as a “Pisco Sour,” a cocktail consisting of pisco (brandy commonly found in Peru and Chile), lemon juice, and bitters all shaken together with a creamy froth added on top. It wasn’t until I had my glass and was about to take my first sip when a friend of mine listed the ingredients of this drink again and added that meringue was the finishing feature on top of the drink. This of course meant that the white froth I was about to slurp up was just beaten egg whites and would have lead to a less ideal end to my trek. So, instead of this drink, one of my fellow trekkers got an extra drink and I got to try the pisco sour minus of course any egg whites.

Silhouette of people near the mountain.

The rest of my travels took me to the Lake Titicaca region of Peru— this lake being the highest navigable lake in the world. I began my travels in the lakeside city of Puno, I visited islands on the Peruvian side of Lake Titicaca, before following the coast down to Bolivia where I spent several days on the Bolivian side of the lake (I highly recommend giving a visit to the Bolivian side if you ever find yourself visiting Lake Titicaca!) Now being away from the popular traveller city of Cusco, it was definitely a rarity to come across locals who knew English and I either relied on using my allergy cards when eating out or fellow travellers who happened to be able to speak English as well as Spanish. I also was out of my packed snacks not long after my trek was finished.  When it came to purchasing allergen-safe snacks, I quickly learned that bananas and avocados not only taste a million times better in South America but stay ripe for days longer and pack well without bruising as easily as they do in Canada. I also ate way more Pringles then I care to admit. With all of that, I am happy to say that I did avoid any allergy incidents at all of the restaurants that I visited and was still able to indulge in some fantastic Peruvian cuisine! For anyone visiting Peru/Bolivia my top food recommendations have to be their Ceviche quinoa soup and for anyone super adventurous perhaps some Alpaca steak!

Anyone with food allergies knows the extra hurdles that come with travelling, but that’s not to say allergies should be a barrier to getting out and exploring the world a little more! Comment below with your favourite travel destinations and what you did to ensure you stayed safe while travelling with allergies!

– Caitlyn P.

Anxiety and Your Allergies

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before, you’re sitting in a restaurant or at a friend’s, or even on a plane. You’re minding your own business, when you see your allergen walk by in the hands of someone you’ve already made aware of your food allergy. You also made sure that any food around you was be allergen-free. But, there it is, walking around within smelling distance or maybe, scarily enough, within touching distance. You start to panic; you watch the food as it travels around the room, it looms closer and closer. You wonder, is that my allergen? Is it coming over here? Am I just imagining it? Do I say something? A million thoughts swirl around your head, you wonder if you should say something or just leave, but you’re stuck, the words form in your mind but can’t seem to make the journey to your mouth. And then it starts, the panic sets in as the food is placed near you, or you watch the same person handle your food with the unwashed hands that touched your allergen. You shrink into your chair, and try to fold into yourself, you can’t make a noise, your breath becomes short, and you’re frozen in that moment.

Portrait of young man suffering for depression

I’ve been in this situation one too many times, and sometimes the feeling of panic still creeps up on me unsuspectingly. You so badly want to speak up for yourself but you feel deflated and beat since they didn’t listen the first time. It’s enough to make you want to never venture out for food again. It can be hard to put into words the panicky feeling you get when your allergen pops up un-expectantly or in a situation you can’t remove yourself from, and even more so to voice that feeling and ask for help. It seems like anxiety and food allergies can sometimes go hand-in-hand, but that doesn’t mean we have to go it alone. It took me a long time to find my voice, and express my concern in risky situations, and yes sometimes its uncomfortable or even awkward but I’ve discovered it’s a fleeting feeling compared to the anxiety and dread of not saying anything or feeling trapped. It takes time and practice but expressing your concerns out loud and making an effort to rectify the situation will leave you with a little more confidence each and every time.

Trust the people around you and the people you care about, practice the situation with them, or have a statement prepared.
Now stop me if you’ve heard this one before, you’re in the same situation, you see your allergen coming close to you. Instead of backing down, you find your voice, confidently express your concerns and instead of dread, you feel happy and satisfied with not only the situation but also yourself.

– Arianne K.

Don’t Eat the Butter Chicken: What I Learned from my Food Allergy Close Call

I was invited to watch a soccer game in a box at a local stadium.

It was a chance to network for a new job and I was feeling a little bit out of my element.

So I said yes to the butter chicken.

toned image of indian chicken curry with basmati rice

The idea of a meal prepared by an Executive Chef in a kitchen sounded safe to me.

I spoke with the Chef, read their ingredients list, and went over all the possible questions for cross contamination. Did you use a clean cutting board? Is there a designated area where you prepare the ingredients? The staff assured me that this was the standard dish they serve to food allergic guests.

I dabbed the sauce on my tongue with my finger before dipping my spoon into the dish (the classic eating-out test for me).

But seconds after the sauce touched my tongue I was administering my Epi-Pen® and was rushed to the hospital by ambulance.

The most terrifying part of the event was the ambulance ride.

The driver was stopped at a traffic light only a block away from the stadium when suddenly there was pounding on the side of the ambulance truck.

A dad was driving his teenage son to the hospital because he was going into anaphylactic shock. He wasn’t carrying his medication on him.

And he had also eaten the butter chicken.

Here’s what I learned from this close call:

  1. Auto-injectors like my Epi-Pen® are a painless tool that will save your life. This was the first time I administered my Epi-Pen® on myself. Before this, I was terrified. I would typically rush myself to the hospital after consuming lots of Benadryl®. Was it denial of being in anaphylactic shock? Fear of doing it wrong? I’m not sure. That moment made me realize how important administering an auto-injector is during a crisis.
  1. Don’t feel pressure to eat out just to feel included. In my professional life, I often have moments where I feel like I fit in and my food allergies don’t exist. I feel like we’re all equals, part of a team, working together to create something awesome. If your friends or colleagues respect and understand your food allergies, compromises can be made to tailor to your needs.
  1. Always have a buddy who knows where your medication is located, at any age. My wonderful friend rushed to my purse seconds after the spoon hit my tongue. She gave me my Epi-Pen® within one minute of the reaction starting. She knew I had severe food allergies and remained calm in the situation. She stayed with me in the hospital and reached out to my emergency contacts.Sketch illustration of two hands holding each other strongly
  2. If you trust a kitchen with preparing your food, request to have something made fresh for you with simple ingredients. Don’t go for the prepared butter chicken from the chef who isn’t working the shift anymore. If the kitchen passes your trust test, choose uncomplicated, simple food. A grilled chicken breast without sauce and one side veggie is much easier than a complex soup with a long list of possible contaminants.
  1. Despite your due diligence, mistakes can happen. The teen who also had a reaction to butter chicken was a season pass holder for the stadium. He always ate the butter chicken at games. But that day the chef used one different ingredient. We can’t predict these things and it’s part of what we live with every day.
  1. Always go to the hospital. I received a second dose of epinephrine when I arrived at the hospital. About two hours after arriving, while in the waiting room, I went into anaphylactic shock again. Always seek physician care even if you have used your Epi-Pen®.

Cashew paste. The morning chef used cashew paste and didn’t follow the kitchen’s recipe.

That night I learned a valuable lesson. We all know that eating brings people together, and in that stressful situation, I wanted to feel included. But it’s never worth the risk.

After that night, I promised myself to never again concede to the pressure to eat out in public.

Do you have any lessons from a close call to add?

– Catherine B.

Feeling Guilt over an Allergic Reaction

Young shy woman hiding your face-girl covering her face

Having a food allergy and living safely with one requires a lot of special accommodations. Often times, it is hard not to feel bad for others or guilty when your allergy has an impact on their life.

When I was in high school I went on a date to a Greek restaurant with my boyfriend at the time. I love Greek food so I was really excited for our meal. During our appetizers I was a few bites in and knew something didn’t feel right. I wasn’t having any full blown symptoms of an anaphylactic reaction but I could tell that I was having some mild symptoms. To be safe I took an antihistamine and stopped eating the food we were given. As the meal went on I was afraid to eat anymore food in case it would make my symptoms worse. My boyfriend kept asking why I wasn’t eating anything. I was embarrassed and didn’t want to ruin the dinner by telling him about my symptoms so I just lied and said that I wasn’t hungry. I was trying to take the anti histamine without him noticing as I didn’t want to make a big deal about it or have him panic and tell other people which would have made it a huge scene. I could just picture it in my head, telling a staff person, calling the paramedics, using my auto injector – all things I just did not want to go through!

After we arrived home, I was noticeably drowsy from the medication I had taken so I told him what had happened. He told me that there was nothing to feel bad about if I was having any sort of reaction and that I shouldn’t feel guilty or think that I shouldn’t tell anyone. After that scenario happened I have learned that there is no need to feel any guilt or shame when having an allergic reaction. It is so important for your safety to tell others what is happening in case the situation were to escalate and you needed help. People are more understanding than you may think and when your life is at-risk there is no need to feel bad about being an imposition. Others want to help you and make sure you are okay!

Lindsay S.

Explaining My Food Allergies Series: At a Restaurant

Some people find it daunting eating out at restaurants when living with a food allergy. Having had food allergies for as long as I can remember, I have become quite comfortable talking to servers and explaining my situation to them. As a child, my parents took the responsibility of conveying the message of my food allergies. However, once I became older it became important for me to be able to do this myself and to know when a restaurant is safe to eat at, as I would eventually be on my own without my parents at my side all of the time.

When I am deciding what to order at a restaurant, I tend to pick two items. That way if there is an issue with my top choice, the server can look into the second item before coming back. I have the same routine way of telling the servers about my food allergies every time I eat out, which keeps things simple.

I start off by saying that I have a few food allergies to let the kitchen know about and I tell the server my list of food allergies. I have a number of food allergies so I say them slowly so that they can be written down. I always confirm the list with the server. Then I tell them what I am interested in having and ask that they check with the kitchen that it will be safe. If I notice on the menu that there is something that contains one of my allergens that would most likely be cooked on the same grill or food preparation station, I ask about having my food cooked in a separate area. I emphasize that my food allergies are severe and that cross-contamination could cause a severe reaction. There have been situations in which I felt that the server did not understand the severity of my allergies and therefore asked to speak to a manager who was better able to handle the situation.

Overall, I feel that due to the rising prevalence of allergies, it has become much easier to convey the message of explaining my food allergies. Many chain restaurants often have allergy menus now, which outline the common allergensiStock_000068035835_XXXLarge.jpg that can be found in their dishes. This allows you to make a more informed decision about what to eat. The greatest difficulties I have faced have been with language
barriers. Within Canada, I generally do not have many issues, but in those cases, talking to a manager has always made things much easier and more clear. I do not let my allergies stop me from being able to go to restaurants with friends and family. I recognize situations where I might be limited, but know that if I cannot eat at a certain place, there will always be somewhere else I can go to get food.

-Sara S.