The April 2007 issue of Annals of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology contains an important study authored by Ryan Ahuja and Scott H. Sicherer MD on the risks of eating out for people with food allergies. According to the study, restaurant cooks and staff are growing increasingly confident in their ability to prepare and serve safe meals to patrons with food allergies, but their knowledge of how to prepare and serve allergen-free foods is often lacking.
This dangerous combination of confidence and ignorance can result in a very risky situation, and this study reminds all of us with food allergies to be particularly vigilant when dining out.Here are some tips for choosing a food-allergy-friendly eatery:
"Ask Before You Eat" is the advice that New Jersey's Department of Health and Senior Services (NJDHSS) and researchers at Rutgers University's Food Policy Institute and Department of Nutritional Sciences offer to people with food allergies.
That simple bit of advice is your best protection against accidental exposures and cross-contamination. Unless the restaurant staff is fully aware of your food allergies and is well informed on how to properly prepare food to prevent cross contamination, you can't really expect them to serve you a safe meal.
Check out the "Ask Before You Eat program."
If you own or work in a restaurant or the owner of your favorite eatery wants to learn more about allergy-free cooking, the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network, the Food Allergy Initiative, and the National Restaurant Association have worked together to develop an excellent education program called Food Allergy Training Guide for Restaurants and Food Services. You can order it online or call the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network at 800-929-4040. I believe that the rising prevalence of food allergies along with programs such as these and the growing willingness of restaurants to cooperate will lead to restaurants with increased allergy awareness where those with food allergies can dine more safely.
Remember: Regardless of how safe you feel at a particular restaurant, never leave home without your emergency medications, and wear your medical ID bracelet or necklace at all times.