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Eating out can be a minefield when you have food allergies. Here’s how to manage it.

Millions of adults and children in the U.S. have food allergies, ranging from mild to severe. While it can be a challenge to navigate life with a food allergy, many people find it manageable to avoid allergens when eating at home. But if you often eat out at restaurants or at the homes of others, life can be a little trickier.

Don’t let a food allergy ruin your good time – or worse, put you in a life-threatening situation. Here are 7 tips to help you be better prepared so food allergy surprises don’t get the best of you:
  1. Inform hosts of allergies – If you are having a meal at the home of a friend or family member, let them know about your food allergy before you arrive. This allows them to provide foods you can eat and to let you know about foods you should avoid.
  2. Bring your own food – Offer to bring your own dish or meal so you know there is something available for you that is safe to eat. If your food allergies are severe, keep any food meant for you completely separate from food that may be shared by others to avoid cross-contamination.
  3. Be the host – Some people with food allergies find they feel most comfortable when they are the host of a party or meal. This way they can stay in full control of any food served. Ask guests to bring non-food items or foods that don’t contain hidden ingredients (such as a fruit or veggie tray).
  4. Speak up at restaurants – More and more restaurants can address the needs of guests with food allergies, so let your server know about any allergies you have. If your allergies are severe and your food cannot even come in contact with potential triggers, such as being cooked on the same surface, ask to speak directly to the chef.
  5. Know the names of offending foods – Sometimes it’s easy to recognize if an allergen is in a product just by looking at a label. But other times, it may not be as easy to identify because the food has alternate names. When reading labels, look for any potential names that may indicate the food contains an allergen.
  6. Question everything – There are many hidden sources of allergens so sometimes it can be hard to know if allergens are present just by reading a description. For example, there may be dairy on your steak if it is rubbed in butter. Baked goods with shiny coatings may be brushed with egg. Nuts may be used as a thickener in sauces. Gluten or wheat may be used as a binder in prepared foods. If you’re not sure about a food, skip it – better to be safe than sorry.
  7. Don’t leave home without epinephrine – People with food allergies never know when a surprise ingredient will trigger their symptoms. To be safe, always carry an epi-pen with you (and make sure someone knows how to properly use it). Severe allergies may require immediate treatment and having epinephrine with you can be life-saving.

“Food allergy is very prevalent.  Researchers estimate that 33 million Americans have food allergies.  90% of all reactions are from one of these foods: milk, egg, wheat, soy, peanut, tree nuts, shellfish, fish, and sesame.  If you’re concerned about a potential food allergy, see a board-certified allergist.”

-Dr. Adrianne N. Edmundson, Allergy, Asthma, & Immunology


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Date Last Reviewed: March 13, 2024

Editorial Review: Andrea Cohen, Editorial Director, Baldwin Publishing, Inc. Contact Editor

Medical Review: Jane Schwartz, RDN, CLT

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