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The Dangers of Dining Out With Food Allergies

Posted by Joan Salge Blake  November 12, 2013 03:33 PM

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Source:  National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases
It’s always a dining adventure when Pam makes a reservation for herself and daughter, Jessie, at a restaurant.   Pam is allergic to crustacean shellfish (crab, lobster, and shrimp), and Jessie has to carry an epi-pen (epinephrine by autoinjector) because consuming even a morsel of peanuts or tree nuts (almonds, walnuts, and pecans) can cause her to have a severe immune system anaphylaxic reaction.  Her throat will swell up and the airways in her lungs will constrict, which throws her into a state of panic worried that she will have difficulty breathing and could die. 

Between the both of them, Pam and Jessie have 3 of the 8 major foods  -- milk, eggs, wheat, soybeans, fish, crustacean shellfish, tree nuts, and peanuts that cause 90 percent of all food allergic reactions.  Currently up to 15 million Americans suffer from food allergies and need to avoid not only certain foods, but any ingredient that contains proteins derived from them.
In the supermarket, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires that all food labels clearly identify in the ingredients listing all sources of these eight most common food allergens, as well as any protein that may had come from these foods.  Unfortunately, when dining out, the restaurant menu may just give a brief description of the dish without disclosing every minute ingredient used in the recipe, causing some restaurant patrons anxious about what they should order. 

Because of this, Pam and Jesse must spend several minutes during every restaurant meal outing clearly communicating to the waitstaff about their food restrictions and concerns.  Jessie’s allergy is so severe that she also needs to make sure that cross-contamination doesn’t occur in the kitchen, such as when a spoon or dish comes in contact with multiple foods, including a food allergen, in error.

Luckily, if you have a food allergy or know someone who has one, dining out has just become less stressful, thanks to AllergyEats.  This website offers a free online guide to over 600,000 allergy-friendly restaurants nationwide.  AllergyEats is the brainchild of Paul Antico, CEO, founder, and father of three food-allergic children.  Four years ago, Paul quit his day job to passionately become a food allergy advocate. 

On a crusade to educate the food industry about food allergies, AllergyEats recently sponsored a conference in Boston that catered to restaurant and food service establishments.   Experts from the National Restaurant Association, allergists from Boston Children’s Hospital, Massachusetts General Hospital, and Harvard Vanguard Medical Associations and notable restaurants that excel at accommodating food allergies provided valuable information about how eateries can accommodate food-allergic guests, allay their fears about food allergies, and build customer loyalty.

AllergyEats has also created a mobile app that allows you to choose an allergy-free restaurant on-the-go. It is free and designed for the iPhone or Android.

I am emailing the link to Pam and Jessie ASAP.

Do you have a nutrition topic that you would like me to cover?  If so, please email me at

Follow Joan on Twitter at:  joansalgeblake
Originally published on the blog Nutrition and You!.
This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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About the author

Joan Salge Blake, MS, RD, LDN, is a clinical associate professor and registered dietitian at Boston University in the Nutrition Program. Joan is the author of Nutrition &You, 2nd Edition, More »

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