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Dining With a Dash of Caution

Food allergy sufferers have a lot on their plate

By P. J. Ellison

I’m one of the lucky ones. I can eat anything a restaurant serves — from greasy spoon to five-star fine dining — and never gain so much as an ounce. You’re not alone. My friends hate me, too. But just one sip of that lobster bisque and my throat swells and my body shuts down. Needless to say, I never eat out (or leave the house) sans my epinephrine injector.

Over two million Canadians suffer from food allergies — some people don’t even know they have allergies. Of course, most allergic reactions don’t include anaphylactic shock, but many allergies will certainly ruin your meal, your night out on the town.

Dr. Stanley Cohen, a paediatric gastroenterologist and author of A Common Sense Guide to Nutrition says the best advice when eating out is to ask a lot of questions — of you’re waiter, chef, and the owner of the restaurant. “Get to know the chef and talk about the specific ingredients,” says Dr. Cohen. “Not only will you put your mind at ease, it just might satisfy your inner foodie knowing a cook’s secrets in the kitchen.”

Here are some of my tips (and some tips gleaned from reliable sources) to consider when dining out:

  • Simple is not boring, it’s safe. Order simply prepared foods like grilled meats and fish without batter, which often contains nuts and flour – a no-no for celiac sufferers.
  • Know your allergy. It seems obvious, but understanding what causes your allergy, how severe the symptoms are, and what’s to be done in the event of a reaction goes a long way.
  • Take time to find establishments willing and able to accommodate you and your food needs. Fellow allergy sufferers are a good source, of course, and so are websites like www.allergyeats. com for those times you’re travelling abroad and don’t really know where to eat in a new city.
  • Call ahead. Restaurant staff is always busy, so try calling a couple of hours before service and ask to speak to someone in the kitchen. The executive chef is often the best source since he or she is usually in charge of ordering ingredients and supplies. Simply ask about their cooking policies and if there’s any chance for cross contamination. Who knows? You may even be able to plan your meal in advance.
  • Announce your arrival: No need to wear a neon bib, but you should make yourself known to the staff upon arrival. Pre-printed cards can also be printed out and handed to a server who can then attach it to the ticket in the kitchen to emphasize the seriousness of your request.
  • High fives & back slaps: Restaurant staff appreciates feedback. Let them know you appreciated their attentiveness. It’s about more than being polite it’s about building a culture whereby food allergies are taken seriously.

Summer 2014, Vol 6 N°3

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