Food allergies can be serious. The last thing someone with a life-threatening allergy wants to do is take unnecessary risks. But that shouldn’t stop you from eating out or ordering takeout from a local restaurant, especially now when the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in an exponential rise in takeout orders. In order to safely eat out at any time, it’s crucial that you clearly convey your allergy requirements.
Communication is key
One simple way to ensure your dietary restrictions are properly communicated is to avoid ordering online. Your best bet is to do all ordering either in person or over the phone. Additionally, you may want to pick up your order from the restaurant as opposed to having it delivered, so that you can double check your requirements were met.
“Try speaking to the highest person in charge, such as the manager, as they would likely be the most aware of the cooking process,” said Dr. Roshini Mullakary, an allergy and immunology specialist with Northwell Health Physician Partners/Westchester Health. “If possible, the best person to speak to would be the chef since they are the ones making your food.”
Most restaurants are prepared for such requests. You’re not the only one with eating restrictions! More and more, as food allergies and other involuntary dietary changes rise in prevalence, eateries are used to getting dietary requests and have protocols in place to handle restrictions.
“The most important thing is proactive communication,” Dr. Mullakary said. “Make sure that no matter how you are ordering, you are voicing your concerns…if you end up ordering online or through an app, make sure you still call the restaurant afterwards so you can communicate your food allergy needs.”
If you’re not sure which restaurants will accommodate your requests, don’t worry. There’s a growing market for finding which places are more responsive to allergy related requests than others. AllergyEats, a mobile app and website, rates how friendly a given restaurant or store is to people with food allergies. Some places even have specified menu options geared towards certain allergies.
So, what should you order? More importantly, what should you avoid?
Certain foods, particularly recipes with many ingredients, dressings, or dips may have a higher risk of cross-contamination. Stick to simpler orders. Also, be sure to advocate for yourself! There’s no reason to be embarrassed by your allergy, and certainly don’t feel like you’re inconveniencing restaurant staff by asking extra questions. They get these questions more often than you may think.
Dr. Mullakary says, “You want to clearly express to the person you are talking to that you have a food allergy that can be life-threatening. You should tell them that you cannot have the allergen mixed with other food and should ask them if they will use different equipment for your meal.”
Ultimately, despite everyone’s best efforts, you may still encounter an allergen in your order. If you notice any allergen in your meal, stop eating immediately—you may have already ingested some of that allergen that you didn’t even see. If you develop any symptoms, follow the guidance of your allergist on how to proceed. And remember to carry your epinephrine auto-injectors everywhere, especially when eating out.
If you or a loved one have any specific questions regarding best practices for eating out with your particular allergies, you can reach Dr. Roshini Mullakary and the Allergy and Immunology Clinic at (914) 777-1179.