Tag Archives: Saverio M.

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.

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 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.  

Buffets and Allergies: Staying Safe

vacation

If you’ve ever been to Vegas, or any other resort destination for that matter, you know that the buffet is an absolute staple. Usually these buffets tend to be “all you can eat” and very reasonably priced (which is always a bonus). Even though buffets can be very alluring, having allergies can limit your options. One of the biggest problems with all-you can-eat buffets is the fact that the chance of cross-contamination, whether it be in the preparation of the food or the utensils that handle the food, is very high. Through my own personal experiences travelling, I’ve compiled a few tips that you should keep in mind before heading-out to a buffet.

Step 1: Do your homework.

Before visiting a buffet, research the actual company online. See if they have an allergy policy in place – some restaurants are more sensitive to allergies than others in that they actually have policies to protect allergic customers. Regardless of whether or not you find anything online, the next step would be to call the actual restaurant (at the specific location you are planning to go to). When you call, make sure you speak to the general manager. General managers usually have a better understanding when it comes to the ramifications of your severe allergy; and they are usually more knowledgeable about the food products/ingredients used in the buffet preparation. Make sure you tell them about the risk of cross contamination and ask whether or not they can guarantee an allergen-free environment.

Step 2: Make a plan.

Depending on what answer the manager gives you, you have to use your judgement to determine whether or not you feel comfortable dining at the establishment. If you don’t feel comfortable, don’t bother going. You will feel anxious the entire time and may end-up regretting your decision. If you do decide to dine-out, scout-out the buffet right when you get there. Buffets are usually segmented into different “sections” (ie. Desserts, Salads, Soups, etc…). By process of elimination, make a mental note about which segments to stay away from, depending upon your allergen (ie. Nuts, peanuts, etc…). In my case, I am severely allergic to tree nuts. So I usually stay away from the salad bar and the desert stand. Nuts are regularly used in salads and desserts.

Step 3: Choosing what to eat.

Once you have committed to areas of the buffet that you deem to be safe, start selecting your food. Even though you have physically marked these areas out as “safe zones” in your mind, always choose foods that you feel comfortable eating. Look-out for utensils that are used in more than one area, foods that people grab-at without utensils, or anything else that may pose a risk for cross-contamination.

The bottom line is that you have to feel safe wherever you eat – always use your judgement before deciding which restaurant to go to. I hope you will find these tips helpful when planning for your next buffet outing. These are all tips to help mitigate the allergy risks encountered at buffets. Use your best judgement when deciding to eat at a buffet. If it’s out of your comfort zone, simply don’t risk it and find another restaurant.

Saverio M.

Allergies and All-Inclusive Resorts

Beach toys

When thinking about all-inclusive resorts, the first thing that should come to mind is sheer serenity—things like a clear blue ocean, white sandy beaches, and flawless sunny weather.

Even though vacations to all-inclusive destinations do provide many people with a much needed breather from life’s obstacles and challenges, those with allergies actually end-up encountering a host of other potential challenges. These can transform a stress-free getaway into a stressful experience.

Therefore, for all who love to travel, I will offer-up my suggestions in the following two sections. These should help you to prepare for your next trip. I am drawing these from my own experiences.

Choosing a location:

Many all-inclusive destination resorts are located in the Caribbean; so my advice will be focused upon Caribbean destinations. Try choosing an Island where English is the native tongue or at least widely used (ie. Turks and Caicos, Barbados, the U.S. Virgin Islands, etcetera…). When I travelled to Turks and Caicos, I found this to be key in terms of communicating my allergies to the hotel staff. You should also look for Islands that have international-chain grocery stores. Turks and Caicos had an IGA steps away from the hotel, This reduced a lot of the stress when it came to eating and preparing food.  If you want to avoid the islands completely, another excellent option includes US-based destinations: Florida, California or Arizona. All of these states have great weather and high-standards when it comes to food quality and health-care. These factors should not be “be-all and end-all” determinants when it comes to looking for a destination; but keep them in mind.

Choosing your hotel:

When looking for hotels, always try to book a room with a kitchen, even if it is a bit pricier. When travelling to the Dominican Republic, a few years back, I found booking a room with a kitchen to be a big stress-reliever. There were no grocery stores around; so I just asked the chef in the hotel’s restaurant to provide me with a raw piece of veal or chicken that I would grill myself, in my room. Beware, however, that some hotels are not open to doing this. So be sure to call well in advance of your arrival. It is always good practice to call your hotel in advance to ask about the hotel’s allergy policies (if they exist), the nearest medical centre, and the room’s amenities. I can’t tell you how many times I have booked a room with a “fully equipped kitchen,” only to find a broken microwave and circa-1992 mini-bar fridge. ALWAYS call in advance. A lot of people I know “risk it” when on vacation and just eat food from the buffet. I would strongly advise against this. As alluring as the beach and buffet notion is, at all-inclusive resorts, eating at buffets puts you at an increased risk for eating cross-contaminated food. Tongs are not properly cleaned and people use their hands to pick-up food, etcetera. Always try to have as much control over your food as possible.

These are some tips from my experiences. As you travel more, you will begin to carve-out your own routines and form your own rules based upon your own experiences. The key things to keep in mind are to know your destination, know your hotel, and know yourself. You always have to feel comfortable in the situation that you are in; this will guarantee you a stress-free trip.

Saverio M.