Tips for Dining Out with Food Allergies and Intolerances

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Mr. Antico is the founder of AllergyEats, a food allergy advocate and a parent of three food-allergic children

Dining out is one of America’s favorite pastimes, but for millions of people with food allergies and intolerances, the experience can be stressful. I know this first-hand from dining out with my three food-allergic children for the past ten years.

Families with food allergies hope that all restaurants can and will cater to their special needs, but some restaurants are far more accommodating than others. Some have extensive food allergy training and protocols in place, while others lack the knowledge, skills, or commitment to properly and safely accommodate food-allergic diners.

There have been countless times that my family entered restaurant after restaurant, looking for a place that could accommodate my children’s food allergies. Over the years, I wondered why there wasn't a quick, easy guide that rated restaurants based on how well they accommodated food allergies. So I created one.

Enter AllergyEats

Now, AllergyEats is the largest and most comprehensive source for finding allergy-friendly restaurants. AllergyEats – a free, peer-based resource – offers a core website, smartphone app, blog, Disney World microsite and a large (and growing) social media community sharing tips, advice and other information. AllergyEats has significantly improved the way food allergic individuals find allergy-friendly restaurants.

Based on my experiences, I would offer the following tips for dining out with food allergies:

Research restaurants in advance. Look up restaurants' menus, ingredient lists and allergen statements. AllergyEats allows users to find restaurants where other food-allergic diners have had positive experiences and avoid the ones that have been less accommodating. Additionally, the AllergyEats website and smartphone app provide mobile access to restaurants' menus, ratings, websites, directions and more.

Be prepared. Always travel with Epi-pens, Benadryl or other allergy medications in case of an allergic reaction. Even restaurants with the best intentions and food allergy protocols can occasionally have a mishap, so be prepared in case of an emergency.

Ask open-ended questions. Inquire about restaurants' food allergy protocols and ingredient lists - but in a way that inspires ongoing dialogue. My son is allergic to peanuts, so instead of asking if French fries are cooked in peanut oil, resulting in a yes or no answer, I ask what kind of oil is used in the fryer. By keeping my questions open-ended, the server is forced to ask the chef about any unknowns – as opposed to possibly guessing – and I feel more comfortable making decisions based on those answers.

Read ingredient lists and labels. Families with food allergies read ingredient labels at the supermarket to avoid products containing their allergy triggers, and should ask to do the same at restaurants.

Avoid restaurant buffets. Even if a dish wasn't cooked with your food allergy triggers, it can easily be cross-contaminated from other items or utensils in a buffet. Your best bet is to avoid buffets altogether and order a separate meal that's free of your food allergens.

Stay vigilant wherever you go. Your favorite local restaurant may be terrific about accommodating your food allergies, but never assume that another restaurant – even if it's part of the same chain – can similarly cater to your needs. Chain restaurants often have different owners and managers at each location - with different levels of food allergy knowledge, experience and training. Ask questions and be cautious every time, everywhere.

Leverage the food allergy community for advice, tips and info-sharing. Discussions on food allergy Blogs and social media sites (including the AllergyEats Facebook page and blog: http://www.facebook.com/AllergyEats and www.allergyeats.com/Blog) contain valuable information about dining out with food allergies.

Trust your instincts. Does the restaurant's staff sound confident and knowledgeable about how to handle your special meal preparation? If not, leave and find another restaurant.

AllergyEats - free, comprehensive and a killer app!

AllergyEats - a free website, smartphone app and associated social media forums - provides valuable information to the food allergy community. Users can quickly and easily access peer-based ratings and feedback about how well (or poorly) restaurants accommodate food-allergic customers, so they can make more informed decisions about where to dine (and which establishments to avoid).

AllergyEats lists more than 600,000 restaurants nationwide, which food-allergic diners can rate. The site also offers information on restaurants’ menus, web links, directions and more.

While most restaurant review sites include information about establishments’ food, ambiance or service, AllergyEats is singularly focused on food allergies, with peer reviews spotlighting where people with food allergies or intolerances have more comfortably eaten and where they’ve encountered challenges.

AllergyEats has grown steadily since its launch in early 2010, because it serves a real need in the food allergy community. In addition to being embraced by the food allergy community, AllergyEats has also been endorsed by highly-respected food, health and allergy organizations and individuals, including the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, Gluten Intolerance Group, Massachusetts Restaurant Association, Chef Ming Tsai, Chef Joel Schaefer and more.

AllergyEats has also won a number of prestigious awards recently. AllergyEats was recently selected as the About.com 2012 Readers' Choice Award winner for best Food Allergy App. The AllergyEats smartphone app also won a Web Health Award and was honored as one of Healthline’s Top Ten Food Allergy Apps. For more information, please visit www.AllergyEats.com.

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