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How to safely eat at restaurants if you have a food allergy

While eating out at a nice restaurant is usually relaxing for most people, for those with food allergies, eating out can be a maze of finding an accommodating restaurant and a hazard if food uses the wrong ingredients.

That’s why people with food allergies, especially life-threatening ones, employ a series of strategies while dining out to ensure that the food they eat hasn’t been contaminated or made with anything dangerous.

A person with a severe allergy could end up in the hospital with anaphylaxis just because the food was prepared on a cross-contaminated surface.

While many restaurants can make or alter dishes to accommodate food requests, sometimes these requests are forgotten or even ignored because the waitstaff and chef are not aware of how serious the problem is.  

New research has found that the more strategies that are used, the better the chances are of avoiding a reaction.

Members of the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI) conducted surveys to find out which strategies people with food allergies used most often and which strategies had the best results as far as reducing the risk of an allergic reaction.

The researchers asked people from a food allergy network to fill out a 25-question survey that asked what measures were used when dining out.

80 percent of the survey respondents reported that their number one strategy was talking to a waiter upon arrival at the restaurant.

Other top strategies included ordering dishes that had few ingredients, double checking with a waiter before taking a bite of the food, researching the restaurant online ahead of time and looking at the ingredients used, and avoiding restaurants with a high risk of contamination.

The strategies used the least included using a personal allergy card, placing an allergy order separately, avoiding eating at restaurants altogether, going during off hours, or choosing a chain restaurant.

Interestingly, the researchers found that using multiple strategies while eating at a restaurant had the highest level of success for people with allergies.

“We found when those with food allergies used more strategies in a restaurant, the result was fewer reactions,” Justine Ade, the lead author of the study. “People who used an average of 15 strategies when eating out tended to avoid having a severe allergic reaction. Those who did experience an allergic reaction were using an average of only six strategies at the time of their most severe reaction.”

By Kay Vandette, Staff Writer

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