8 Tips For Eating Out When You Have Food Allergies Or Intolerances
Whether the symptoms of your food allergy or intolerance are mildly annoying or potentially life-threatening, eating out can be more of a minefield than a pleasure.
A food allergy is when eating a particular type of food triggers the immune system to react, with symptoms including breathing problems, rashes or hives, swelling and low blood pressure. A food intolerance is where the digestive system cannot properly digest, or is irritated by, certain foods. Symptoms of an intolerance include nausea, abdominal pain, headaches or bowel problems.
The main difference is that while some people with an intolerance will be able to consume a small amount of the trigger food without too much discomfort, those with a food allergy could be triggered by only a tiny amount of the allergen, with fatal consequences in some cases.
People with a food intolerance or allergy will naturally want to avoid the foods that cause them to react, so here are our top tips for eating out.
Whatever the occasion of your meal out, whether business or pleasure, if someone else is choosing the location or booking it, make them aware of your needs.
It’s also a good idea to find out where you’ll be going in advance so that you can do your own research into the business’ approach to food allergies and intolerances.
If you’re deciding where to eat, research restaurants in the area. What does their website or even TripAdvisor reviews say about their approach to food allergies and intolerances? If they have menus online, are common allergens highlighted?
As awareness and the prevalence of allergies and intolerances grow, more restaurants, pubs and cafes are becoming more confident with serving customers affected by them. Look for places that acknowledge the issues and at least sound like they know what they’re doing in protecting customers.
Certain types of cuisine favour base ingredients which make it hard to avoid some common allergens. For example, sesame is popular in Middle Eastern dishes; soy in Chinese food and fish-based ingredients in Thai food.
If your allergen is often prevalent in the dishes offered by a restaurant, the risk of cross-contamination during food preparation is higher, and it can be safer to bypass that eaterie altogether, choosing somewhere that doesn’t favour those ingredients instead.
Having a food allergy or intolerance makes impulsive dining more difficult. Pre-booking your table and making management aware of your requirements will help you feel more relaxed about dining and also give the business time to prepare for your visit. Following up your call with an email is a good idea to minimise the risk of misunderstandings and will give the venue a written record of your requirements.
Explain the severity of your condition so that the person you speak to is clear that, for you, avoiding certain ingredients is not merely a preference, but a necessity. If the food that you need to avoid is often a “hidden” ingredient – for example, found in sauces and marinades but not normally the main focus of a dish – explain that sometimes it can be tricky to identify.
When you arrive, introduce yourself and reiterate your requirements. Ideally, the staff member or manager on duty will be aware of the situation, but it’s safer not to assume.
If safe to do so, many food allergy sufferers can detect their allergen when taking a tiny taste of their food, for example, a tingling sensation in their mouth.
It’s really important to report businesses that aren’t on top of their food allergy obligations. They may be breaking the law and their actions could result in someone getting very ill – or worse.
If you believe that you have been served a dish containing an allergen or ingredient that you’re intolerant to, despite making your requirements clear, you should notify the local Trading Standards authority in which the food business is based. You can also contact Allergy UK at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If the restaurant, pub or café you visit does a great job in handling your food allergy or intolerance requirements, share your experience.
Leaving a positive review on Google, TripAdvisor or on social media will help other people in your situation, credits a job well done and may help encourage other food businesses to up their game.
If you run a café, takeaway, pub or restaurant – vegan or otherwise – and are looking for a quick, easy and cost-effective way to get on top of your food allergen labelling – particularly with Natasha’s Law now in play – Allergen Checker can help. Get in touch and we can talk you through the options.