Tag Archives: Eating out with allergies

Expectations when Eating Out with Allergies

Waitress

When talking to other people about my allergies, a common topic that comes up is how hard it must be to eat out at restaurants.  For the most part, however, I have had nothing but positive experiences when it comes to eating out. I will admit that there have been some less than positive incidents, for example where it was not detected that the menu item I ordered contained food allergens. And only once did a restaurant refuse to serve me because of my allergies. While these are not positive events, they for the most part are preventable by having my own routine for how I inform servers about my allergies along with the responsibility I expect to see from the restaurant for serving someone with allergies.

The expectations I have when eating at a restaurant include always making sure I get confirmation that the chef is going to be informed about my allergies and that whatever I ordered is going to be prepared in an area where no cross-contamination will occur.  When I order food, I also expect waiters or waitresses to be investigative to ensure that the meal I am ordering is actually free of any possible allergens. One of the incidents where I had an allergic reaction in a restaurant occurred because the waitress misread the ingredient label for a veggie burger, which actually contained egg.  Therefore, I always prefer when a restaurant has a binder that contains a list of what ingredients are in what menu items. Since this is not always possible at every restaurant, I also find that it is a good sign when a waiter/waitress comes back to the table to verify ingredients with me— as this signals they actually have been looking into the food I have ordered.

Overall it is my hope that restaurants will be very accommodating when serving someone with allergies since they want to encourage business but also don’t want to trigger an allergic reaction in one of their patrons.  The incident where a restaurant refused to serve me occurred at a restaurant in Toronto. This restaurant had all of their food shipped in from an outside supplier and could not verify all the ingredients in their food and then could not guarantee any food items were definitely allergen free.  This was obviously a frustrating incident. But it was the right call since no food item could fully assured to be safe. Some incidents where restaurants get ‘brownie’ points for their service in regards to managing food allergies include when the chef comes out and personally talks to me about menu options and what is safe for me.

This exceeds my expectations for eating out and completely reassures me that my meal will be safe. Furthermore, the more flexible a restaurant is with altering their menu options to make safe meal choices also puts a restaurant in my good books.  This gesture is obviously much more work for a restaurant kitchen but is a testament to their commitment to providing an allergy- safe restaurant experience for their guests. It is a shared partnership between myself and the restaurant I eat out at to ensure that the food I eat is allergy friendly. For the most part, however, I must commend restaurants for the steps they take to make my experiences eating out safe and enjoyable. What have your experiences been like eating out at restaurants with allergies?

Caitlyn P. 

Cruising with allergies

Woman in Pool

Going on vacation should be a relaxing experience. But having allergies can sometimes make it stressful. This is particularly true if you’re travelling to a country where you don’t speak the language because it becomes more difficult to get information about your food. An alternative to a traditional vacation is going on a cruise. This can make travelling with allergies a lot more comfortable.

If you decide to cruise with an American company, you can be assured that all the staff members on the ship speak English. This doesn’t necessarily mean that they know all about allergies. But it does make it easier to communicate with them. It’s really important to be precise when talking about food allergies to staff whose first language isn’t English. For example, a staff member might know you’re allergic to nuts, but not realize that almonds are nuts.  They also might not know the distinction between seafood and fish. It’s best to keep things simple and clear so that there are no misunderstandings or confusion.

When you’re booking your cruise, there’s usually a section where you can write any dietary restrictions so that the staff is informed before you get on the ship. Since dinner is usually served in a dining room with a host and a waiter for your table, they will already know about your allergies and are prepared. On some ships, there’s even a special section of the kitchen reserved for making meals for allergic guests. Sometimes you can even speak to the head chef who will sit down with you and pick out safe foods for the duration of your cruise. This doesn’t mean mistakes can’t happen. So it’s important to always double-check your food.

On many cruises, you have the option of a sit-down meal or a buffet. Buffets can be tricky because, when guests serve themselves, they can use the same tongs for different foods and cross-contaminate them. You can avoid some of this by being the first one in line. But that might mean waking up very early for breakfast. If you feel like sleeping in, there are usually packaged foods like mini boxes of cereal or yogurt cups that have ingredients listed on them. These are great to take with you off the ship when you explore the city and can save you if you end up at a local restaurant that you don’t feel safe eating at.

Overall, cruising is a great experience and makes for a fun vacation. Although you may feel safe with a well-informed staff that understands your allergies, it’s important to always double-check your food. There are hundreds of guests on a ship and the wait staff tends to be overworked. So don’t feel bad about reminding the waiter a hundred times about your allergies. If anything should happen to you, there’s always a doctor on board and, if they can’t handle the situation, they can send a helicopter to take you to a hospital that’s better equipped.

Talia A. 

Anxiety and Allergies

Woman Second Guessing

One of the difficult things about allergies, is it seems as though you cannot always control 100 percent of situations. A few great examples of when I have experienced this included when you are on a plane, in a restaurant, at a party, or where external factors are at play in general. I find that, when I am in these situations where I do not have control over possible allergic scenarios, anxiety rushes right up to meet me! Having those feelings, coupled with previous bullying experiences about my allergies, doesn’t make things easier. Sometimes people joke about me being a control freak. But I find it is a real challenge not to be at least a little bit of a control freak when you have life-threatening allergies. I develop anxiety from sources beyond just my allergies. So I have had more than my share of symptoms and reactions. I have a few recommendations for anyone suffering and trying to manage anxiety in their life, from allergies or anything else:

Be prepared

Always be as prepared as you can for situations you expect to trigger anxiety. I notoriously think about where I am going and what might be happening. The more I can be prepared for situations mentally, the easier it is for me to create solutions for problems I might run into. Or I can take proactive steps.

Communicate

I am a strong proponent of communicating your allergies to others. Anytime I am in a situation that may trigger my allergies, I try to mitigate what might develop into anxiety. Flying or being in places with no immediate access to medical care is where I frequently develop anxiety. I am always sure to have my own food, tell the flight attendant about my allergies, and to carry two auto-injectors with me. Many times this has opened-up conversations with other passengers about allergies – secondarily creating an opportunity for allergy education!

Recognize and manage

One of the largest hurdles I’ve had has been understanding what my triggers for anxiety are and what the symptoms of anxiety are. As an allergy-specific example, I know that being in restaurants or houses where I don’t trust food preparation are big triggers for me. Even if I am told that everything is safe for me to consume, deep down I do not trust that it is. I feel anxiety building. As a solution to reduce anxiety, I politely decline eating or just have a beverage. Learning to recognize when I may be impacted by anxiety, and how to manage the situation, has been incredibly powerful for me.

You are not alone

I have learned over the years that there are so many other people with allergies that do not tell many people about them. Know that you are not the only one at a restaurant that has allergies. You are not the only one on a flight with allergies. And you are not the only one who has anxiety from allergies and has to navigate managing allergies in your life. If you ever feel overwhelmed or that your anxiety is building to a level that is too much for you to manage, ask for help and share your concerns with someone you trust. Find out what works for you to help you live a life with as little anxiety as possible.

Anxiety is not fun. It also is not always easy to solve. If you are one of the people that suffers from anxiety and hears people tell you things like “don’t stress, it’s not worth it” or to “take it easy, it will be fine,” you may have the same reaction as I often do. I cannot simply shake off anxiety in two seconds. It is much more complicated. In conclusion, I also guarantee that, by learning to be open to finding ways to know your triggers, symptoms, and manage your anxiety, you will live a fuller, happier, and much less-stressed life!

Joanna C.

Allergies and Brunch

breakfast picture

Sunday brunch has become a quintessential tradition for many families across Canada. Aside from providing a means of reconnecting with family and friends, brunch is usually a meal arranged at external venues and restaurants. Living with allergies usually limits the options you have when it comes to eating-out. One of the biggest problems with buffets, or meals that are prepared by someone other than yourself or your immediate family, is the risk of cross-contamination that arises when multiple different dishes are prepared at once. Here are some tips that you can follow:

  1. What to eat?

If you decide to eat-out, always do your homework. ALWAYS!  What I mean by that is be aware of where you are eating and how your food is being prepared. If the brunch is at an external venue or restaurant, call the venue a day or two in advance to see if the restaurant has an allergy policy in place. That way you will know whether or not the establishment is allergen friendly and what specific foods you should stay away from. If brunch is being served at a relative’s house, follow the same procedure – make sure you always ask and remind your relatives (if they already don’t know) about how severe your allergy is and about the risks of cross-contamination. Being at a relative’s house can actually work in your favour. You can ask to see the ingredients used and how the food was prepared. You have more control over the situation. In any event, opt to eat foods that are “simple” (no creams or fancy sauces). Typically, the simpler the food is the less ingredients you have to worry about. This can reduce the chances for cross-contamination.

  1. Seeking alternatives

What happens if you are sitting at your table but you just don’t feel comfortable eating any of the food prepared? This can be a tricky and uncomfortable situation (especially if you are at a relative’s house). They may think that you don’t trust them. The way to get around this is through compromise. If you are at a restaurant, and there is an omelette that you want, but you can’t have because there are too many ingredients to keep track of, ask the chef to prepare another omelette with less ingredients or just get a hard-boiled egg (this is the safest option). Make sure that the chef is aware of any cross-contamination issues. They should have a good idea about which ingredients are safe and which are not. Ultimately, it is up to you. Go with your gut intuition. If you don’t feel safe, do NOT feel forced to eat something. If you are at a family member’s house, and you just don’t feel safe eating the food prepared, politely pull whoever is cooking the food aside and explain how you feel. Explain that your allergy is a very serious matter and is potentially lethal. In most cases, your family should understand and accommodate you by preparing something that is completely safe. These cases can be sensitive. But your health and safety trumps everything else. You have the right to feel safe!

Overall, these are some simple tips you can follow.  Following these tips should eliminate some of the stress and uncertainty you may feel during your next brunch outing.

Saverio M.

Staying Safe on Valentine’s Day with Allergies

young couple having fun in the kitchen

Roses are in shops, chocolates are on shelves, and the year’s biggest romantic movies are in theaters. Love is in the air and so is everything else. Having a food allergy can make it hard to navigate through a holiday filled with chocolates and treats. But taking time and explaining your allergens can help ensure a great date.

Staying safe on Valentine’s Day can be tricky at any age. But following a few simple guidelines can help you avoid an allergic reaction and help you spend this special day safely with your significant other.

As always, it is important to make sure that the person you are with knows about all of your food allergies, where they can be found, where your auto-injector is, and how to use it. Making sure that your intended date knows what is safe for you to eat and be around is an important first step to staying safe on Valentine’s Day. Sometimes it can feel like the mystery and romance of the holiday is taken away. But, by talking about your food allergies in advance, you will both be prepared. A good way to ensure that a dinner date goes smoothly is to give or ask for a list of safe places to eat in advance so that you can both be better prepared.

Candy, chocolates, and roses are the quintessential staples for any good Valentine’s Day. There are plenty of safe options for delicious treats available to make your day special. If you’re buying, make sure that you read the labels very carefully, look out for “may contain labels” and, if you’re unsure, there are plenty of resources online and numbers to call and confirm ingredients. If you’re a whiz in the kitchen and you’re making a special treat from scratch, a few measures can be taken to ensure that your snack stays safe. Make sure your cooking area is cleaned and that all of your utensils are disinfected. Never use the same utensils for different foods. Ensure that you know all of the food allergies that the person you are cooking for has. Cross-contamination is just as dangerous as an allergen. So always be aware of what is around you.

Every Valentine’s Day date should be sealed with a kiss. The “will they or won’t they” butterflies in your stomach don’t need any accompaniment from stress butterflies caused by wondering if your significant other has had any contact with your allergen.  The best way to avoid any unwanted stress is to, again, make sure that you communicate your allergens clearly and ensure that your date knows the severity of them. If you’re the one without the allergies, consider a dish or meal that is free of your partner’s allergen to ensure a smooth evening.

Having a food allergy should never stop you from experiencing your ideal Valentine’s Day date. Taking simple precautions to stay safe with your food allergies will ensure a magical date and a night to remember for all of the right good reasons.

Arianne K.

 

A Night at the Movies with Allergies – Take Two

Woman with Hat

To religious movie-goers, a night out at the movies represents all things fun and exciting. There’s a lot to look forward to. Whether it involves touching-base with friends or waiting in anticipation to see your favorite actor play his or her roll on the big screen, movie nights usually equate to fun times. Having anaphylaxis does not have to limit your fun night out. Here are a few tips that you can keep in mind during your next movie night.

  1. Before arriving at the movie theatre…

One of the most important things to do, regardless of the outing you are attending, is to let those around you know that (a) you have a severe allergy (and what you have an allergy to) and (b) that you have an auto-injector. If your friends don’t know how to use an auto-injector or what an auto-injector is, give them a brief demonstration of how to use it and where you store it in the event that you have a reaction. Having your friends be aware of your allergy is crucial to your safety at any event. They will know exactly how to respond. So, in sum, make sure that your friends are aware of your allergy.

  1. While at the movie theatre

Whenever I go out to the movies, my friends always rush to grab some snacks before the movie begins. Eating-out with anaphylaxis is always tricky – you have to be extra-careful about which snacks you choose. Here are some tips you can follow to snack safely:

  • Always choose snacks that are pre-packaged by a brand-name company (not by the movie theatre). There should be a detailed list of ingredients on the back with “may contain” warnings. Preferably, choose snacks that you have tried before so you know that you are safe.
  • If you really love popcorn, bring some along with you. You don’t know what oil is used and how the popcorn has been handled by the theatre staff. The risk of cross-contamination is a lot higher with popcorn that is freely handled.
  • If you don’t feel like eating at all, but you still want to ‘participate’ with your peers, drinks are usually a safe option. Always try to opt for bottled or canned drinks – preferably water, soda or juice. Some coffees and teas are sold in bakeries that sell other baked goods that contain common allergens (ie. peanuts and tree-nuts). So the safest thing to drink is something that is sealed.

In summary, these are some simple tips that you can follow during your next outing to the theatre. Don’t let your allergies ruin a fun night out with your friends. Just be aware of what you are eating and make sure your friends are aware of your allergies.

Saverio M.

 

Allergies and Anxiety

Worried Couple

In my years of working in advocacy with the allergic community, I have noticed that the topic of anxiety comes up quite frequently. It seems as though most allergic people I’ve met have experienced a bit of a challenge with anxiety at one point or another. My major bout with anxiety occurred during my grade 12 grad trip abroad. I had an allergic reaction that included the following symptoms: itchy mouth, throat, hives, and tightness in the chest. I ended up being okay.

Luckily, my reaction wasn’t that severe. I took an antihistamine and felt a lot better. The worst part for me was that I had asked all the right questions and took the necessary precautions. I realized that I was not really in control of the situation at all. That is what rattled me the most! Unfortunately, this happened on the second night of my trip.  For the next five days, I hardly ate anything except for some of the snack foods I had packed myself. I ended up losing quite a bit of weight in the next few days. Even after arriving home to Canada, I found myself very on edge around meal times. I would check ingredient labels incessantly. I was afraid that everything in my house was in some way cross-contaminated and started eating less and less. I began having panic attacks which was a really scary thing for me. The symptoms are similar to anaphylaxis—a sense of impending doom, difficulty breathing, shortness of breath, and dizziness. My sister was a great support to me and always helped talk me through my panic attacks.

I basically came to the realization that I can never control everything when it comes to my allergies. I can only do what I can to minimize the risk of a reaction and be prepared to handle a reaction when needed (this includes carrying my auto-injector and purchasing traveler’s insurance in advance, knowing the emergency number in the country you are staying etc.).  With this knowledge in mind, my anxiety is much better. I have not had a panic attack in years and I am able to logically assess risk in stressful situations. Since that graduation trip, I have backpacked through Europe and gone on two Cruises through the Caribbean with no further incidents. I don’t want my allergies to hold me back in life. I embrace new experiences with an open-mind and find comfort in knowing that I am always prepared.

Nicole K. 

So You Didn’t Make a Plan: Allergies and Contingency

Girl and binoculars

It’s easy to make a plan in your head or write it down. You can map out every detail and think of different possibilities that could happen or arise. Putting those plans into action is a completely different story. A few years ago, my friends and I planned a road trip to Darien Lake, New York, where we went to Six Flags.  As kids, we had traveled there with our parents on numerous occasions; but this was the first year we were going alone. Given my food allergies, I knew that I had to plan ahead for safe options to eat. We were going for three days and I assumed a cooler with some cold snacks would be good enough. But boy was I was wrong. I didn’t anticipate how hungry I would be or what I would crave. I didn’t plan ahead for every meal I could want or be hungry for. I felt lost and without food. We were not close to a grocery store and I began to wonder what I would do. My friends I travelled with, being amazing and understanding about my food allergies, realized something was wrong. We decided to try our luck with the few of the restaurants available at the campground we were staying at. I hadn’t planned on eating out, so I did not call ahead or find out if any of them were safe. The first place we looked at was unable to guarantee a safe meal but, luckily, the second restaurant we went to could confirm they were an allergy-safe kitchen.

After eating, I satisfied my hunger; but I was still upset. I knew I was smarter than this. I always had a plan when I went out (but not this time). I realize now why I was so unorganized on this trip. It was a last minute we decision to go, a few days before to be exact, so I had no time to call ahead to the restaurants to make sure they would be safe. I also had conscience to share my cooler with one other person. So I didn’t have the room I would have liked to put more food in. Lastly, I had traveled there without cooking amenities; so my food options were limited.

I know now, whether it’s two days or 200 days in advance of travel, you should always have a some sort of plan in advance. Reliable snacks and foods are always a smart idea but, as we get older, we need more sustenance and most likely a hot meal. With mobile phones, it makes it easier to contact restaurants or look for grocery stores around you. Making sure you know your surroundings and having a plan are not only important to your safety but also when it comes to enjoying your trip.

Planning doesn’t have to be hard or tedious. Knowing what food you like, where you’re going, and what to bring is a lot easier than trying to find safe foods and places to eat. So remember, be prepared for everything because anything can happen.

Arianne K.

Close Calls and Life Lessons Living with Allergies

Cake Temptation

It’s easy to get caught up in the moment and forget what is important. It’s also easy to become lulled into a false sense of security. Having food allergies, you have to constantly be aware of your surroundings and the food you’re going to eat. Being vocal and confident when telling those around you about your food allergy is a skill that we’re all constantly crafting. A while back, I was at a restaurant I frequent at least once a week. Sometimes familiarity can betray us. I know the staff and owner and regard them as close friends; and they are very aware of my food allergy. But, since they are aware, it is easy to forget to tell them or inform them each and every time I eat there. One night, we settled in for a few drinks and some food. The chefs at the restaurant had recently decided to start experimenting in the kitchen. I thought nothing of it since they were aware of my food allergies and I trusted that it would be safe. As I picked up my fork, ready to dig into my meal, the chef came out of the kitchen and said STOP! I immediately put my fork down as he explained that the food they were making in kitchen was perch (a new but serious allergy of mine). The chef said he was pretty sure that it had come into contact since it was in the same part of kitchen.

After they took my meal away, and promised to prepare a safe meal, I thought about the situation. I had failed to mention my allergy that day and it almost ended badly. After that close call, I realized that comfort can be deceiving. Just because I am familiar with a place doesn’t mean everyone is. I need to be more vocal with my allergies so everyone is informed just in case. I’m fortunate to have people looking out for me in the kitchen; but I need to look out for myself more than anyone.

It’s great to be comfortable. Your food allergies should never hinder you from experiencing things like anyone else. But it is always important to be aware of your surroundings and be vocal about your food allergies. You will feel more confident and comfortable in the long-run.

Arianne K.

 

 

Allergies and Outings with Colleagues

Jumping groupCarving-out a niche in the working world is all about building relationships with your colleagues. Having had brief experience in a corporate setting, I can attest to this. A major problem that I encounter is that most of these networking and social opportunities happen over lunch or dinner. This often puts me in a bind. I want to participate in these events, but how can I do so safely?

First of all, you should always plan ahead. A few weeks ago, I wrote an entry regarding buffets and safe dining–this was my first rule. If a group of colleagues arrange to have a dinner after work, use your lunch break to call the establishment in advance. Ask to speak to the general manager and ask whether or not they can guarantee an allergen-free environment. Ask about the nature of the cuisine they prepare and whether or not any of their products contain your specific allergen. Reiterate that you have a life-threatening allergy that is very serious and that the allergy can be triggered by cross-contamination.

Secondly, talk to the restaurant staff in person. If the phone conversation went well, and you feel safe enough to eat at the restaurant, speak to the restaurant staff upon your arrival. Ask to speak to the general manager again, to follow-up on your inquiries, and try to speak to the chef who will be in charge of preparing your food. The chef is usually the best person to talk to since they are the ones actually in the kitchen who are aware of how food is handled. They can best assess if there are likely to be risks of cross-contamination.

Finally, choose simple foods to eat. If you feel safe after speaking to both the chef and the manager, scan the menu. Avoid foods that are layered in seasonings, sauces or anything overly-fancy. The simpler the food choice, the safer you are. I usually request a grilled piece of steak (with salt and pepper seasoning) and a baked potato. If you have nut allergies, avoiding salads and desserts, as the risk of cross-contamination in those foods are very high, is usually a good practice.

If you follow these steps, this should alleviate a lot of the worry associated with eating- out when you have allergies. It will also allow you to focus on making a good impression among your peers since you won’t be as concerned about the safety of your food. I hope you will find these tips helpful.

Saverio M.