A survey of people with food allergies who dine out successfully has found they employ quite a few strategies.
Those who never had an allergic reaction in a restaurant tended to employ an average of 15 strategies to avoid allergens, while those who have had a reaction tended to use only six different strategies before suffering a problem, researchers found.
“Physicians can encourage families to use several different strategies when dining out in an effort to prevent food allergy reactions,” the study’s co-author, Dr. Leigh Ann Kerns, a pediatric allergist and immunologist at Cleveland Clinic Children’s Hospital in Ohio, told Reuters Health by email.
“Family members spend a lot of time reading labels and reducing chances of cross-contamination in the home, but it is more difficult to prevent unintentional exposures in restaurants due to poor understanding of food allergy, miscommunication, and possible cross-contamination of ingredients,” Dr. Kerns said.
Her team surveyed 39 people with food allergies, 19 of whom had suffered an allergic reaction while dining in restaurants. Based on the responses, the researchers compiled a list of 25 strategies that diners use and reported them November 16 at the American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology’s annual conference in Seattle, Washington.
The top five are these: Speak to waiter on arrival (80 percent), order food with simple ingredients (77 percent), double-check food before eating (77 percent), avoid restaurants with higher likelihood of cross-contamination (74 percent), and review ingredients on a restaurant website (72 percent).
The least-used strategies reported were these: place food allergy order separately (23 percent), use a personal allergy card or chef card (26 percent), no longer eat at restaurants (39 percent), choose a chain restaurant (41 percent), go to restaurants during off-peak hours (44 percent).
Patients with food allergies need to be vigilant when going to restaurants, primary investigator Dr. Justine Ade, of University Hospitals’ Rainbow Babies and Children’s Hospital in Cleveland, Ohio told Reuters Health.
“Using more strategies before going out to eat and while dining may help prevent food allergy reactions. (And) always bring an epinephrine device when going out to eat,” Dr. Ade said.
The survey suggests that engaging in a wide variety of preventive efforts may reduce a patient’s risk, said Dr. Clifford Basset, Medical Director of Allergy and Asthma Care of New York in New York City and a spokesperson for the ACAAI, who was not involved in the study.
“Optimal preventive strategies are an integral part of a successful food allergen risk reduction program. Several of the identified preventive strategies feature proactive, clear communication between the patient/family and the restaurant staff,” Dr. Basset said.
Adapting an old maxim to the topic, the takeaway from the study may be that there are two kinds of diners with food allergies: those who take lots of precautions and those who have not yet had their first reaction.
Jeff Nelken says
Additional takeaways for consideration:
1. Ask the server if they received any allergy training at this restaurant.
2. What steps are you to follow, once a guest tells you they have an allergy or gluten restriction.
3. Ask to speak to the manager on duty about your concern.
4. What steps are taken in the kitchen to prepare the allergic guest’s meal.
5. Server’s that have been trained in allergy precautions
will remove the condiments and replace with unused
ones. The menu cover’s need to be wiped down to prevent
cross contact from occurring.
6. Chairs or booths need to be cleaned and sanitized.
( found allergens in the cracks of the booths )
7. The meal should be prepared under the supervision of the Chef
8. Is there a designated area for allergy preparation
9. Are utensils designated for this purpose. Many restaurants use purple coded equipment.
10. What is the Standard Operating Procedure for handling a Gluten Free/Allergy guest.
11. The food should be brought on a plate that is covered to protect it from cross contact.
12. Chef or Manager should wash there hands before delivering meal to the guest.
13. Announce to the guest, this meal has been specially prepared with you in mind.
14. A allergy poster should be in the kitchen as a reminder,
sufficient training and reminding is important as well.
Jose Dolagaray, A.C.E. says
My wife has an allergy to dairy products, not just milk but everything in the milk like whey, lactose, caseine, etc. Besides talking with the waiters and sometimes the chef, we try to find out if the restaurant has an on-line allergen menu and may do have it. Sometimes we speak with the chef and in restaurants like Cracker Barrel, they have made the dishes differently for her. It takes a lot of effort but it is worth it to have a good time eating out without worries. I personally benefit due to my very active lactose intolerance, so when we stay away from dairy for her, I also avoid the lactose. I would say be vigilant, plan ahead and check menus. You will eventually develop a list of restaurants to visit regardless of the food allergy you may have.