Sunday, May 22, 2011

Eating Out with Allergies

Eating out can suck or be wonderful. You can have an allergic reaction because your server was a dork and didn't listen (or didn't think of cream cheese as dairy) or discover new and wonderful foods you've never had before. I thank the Japanese for sushi every time I have it.

So, if you want to eat out, doing the following can help a bit.This is a bit of a long post, but it's based on decades of experience; so, I hope it helps.

1. Check out the restaurant's website to see if you can find something that might work.
2. Call ahead to find out if they can accommodate you. At the very least, give them a head's up. It's just a nice thing to do. Plus, you can often get a sense of how allergy-aware the restaurant is before walking in.
3. Take a physician-approved anti-histamine 30 minutes before you leave, especially if you haven't been there before.
4. Have a printed list of what you're allergic to, including derivatives, to give to your server. (i.e.: egg: albumen, lecithin, etc.) They're busy and again, it's just a nice thing to do. Here's the link to my template or you can order a personalized card from Allergy Translation. They offer translations and free chef sheets; so, it's wonderful for travelling.
5. If your server doesn't repeat it back to you, repeat it back to them. Ask them to write it down if you don't have a card.
6. If you're still not comfortable with the server, ask to speak with the manager. Some restaurants are great with this and their policy is to have the manager come out to speak with you. Some restaurants have recipe books - ask to see it.
7. Check the food out before eating. I always ask whoever is actually putting the food in front of me if the dish is free of my allergens. If they don't know, they usually do a double-check with the kitchen. This little trick has saved me on a couple of occasions.
8. Try the food slowly. No sense digging in only to find someone put butter all over everything.
9. Always, always have your MedicAlert bracelet, EpiPen, anti-histamines and any other approved medications.
10. Let the restaurant know they've done a good job (assuming they have). I always fill out a comment card or speak to a manager regarding a great server, great chef and great experience. Sending a thank you card is also a nice thing to do.

I've been to restaurants and done everything right, but before ordering decided the server and manager weren't taking my allergies seriously. So, I've walked out. Be prepared to do so. It can be embarrassing and uncomfortable when you're with friends, but I've never been with anyone who didn't understand. Usually, they're more upset than I am.

If all your hard work hasn't worked out and you do have an allergic reaction:

1. Obviously, take your medication as directed by your physician. Inquire about EpiPen/Twinject, standard anti-histamines (liquid forms may be faster) and medications such as Losec (acid inhibitors).
2. Take your injector and always go to a hospital or call an ambulance. Ignore anyone (including doctors) who tell you that you don't need to go to the hospital. Do not throw up the food. Simply take medications as directed and seek emergency assistance.
3. Ask your companion to speak with the restaurant to find out what you may have reacted to, especially in cases where you have multiple allergies.
4. Once your reaction is under control, inquire about post-reaction follow-up. This usually includes diphenhydramine (commonly known as Benadryl), but I've found that a low-dose, short course of Prednisone can assist greatly with the after effects. Speak to your doctor about the risks of low-dose Prednisone first and if it's right for you. If your ER doctor doesn't prescribe it, feel free to ask if it's a good option for you.
5. Complain. Call the restaurant and let them know you were displeased with their service. Write a review on AllergyTrails. Consider contacting the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (depending on the circumstance) or the Canadian Restaurant and Foodservices Association (CRFA). The latter is an organization for restaurants, not customers, but they have a voluntary food allergy awareness program. In the past, I've contacted the CRFA and they have contacted the restaurant to remind them of this program.

Whew! If you have any tips or tricks that have literally saved you or someone else, let me know!

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