Tuesday, April 12, 2016

dining out with food allergies

When I first had my allergic reaction I was in a LOT of fear about what triggered it and what I might accidentally eat until I could find out what caused it. (anaphylaxis story here)

I took a look at the top 8 allergens after already eating a nice thanksgiving dinner. I knew I had eaten wheat, eggs, milk and probably some soy. So I figured those were okay. At thanksgiving we had a cheese ball crusted in almonds and something told me I should avoid that- I'm so glad I listened to that voice since almond was the likely culprit in my initial allergic reaction. (I even went up to the cheese ball three times thinking "what the heck it's probably fine" luckily I was too afraid to actually try it.)

After I was tested, my allergist and I decided nuts, peanuts,  and sesame would be left out of my diet. As expected, worrying about going to the hospital over trace amounts of these foods from factories and prepackaged items brought on a lot of anxiety. I've adapted since then and don't stress much about it, but certain situations do make me nervous. 

We started cooking more of our food from scratch and seasoning everything ourselves. It ended up being tastier and much healthier so I'm not complaining there! We read every label before we buy food or I google product names on my phone. I joined a few food allergy Facebook groups (some of them have terrifying stories!) to stay up to date on latest food recalls and product brands that are trusted by them. 

Let me preface the rest of this with how I never go somewhere and expect food to be totally safe and available. It's my problem and I'm usually prepared with a backup plan, I never take offense or get angry because I don't expect people to know about my allergies. It's always a happy bonus when things work out!

Reading product labels
Allergy comfort levels vary when purchasing foods. It's not an "intolerance" this is a food allergy, it can be life threatening and it's serious. I haven't just gotten sick or simply developed a few hives from eating nuts, I responded more severely so I take it a little more seriously. I'm not as serious as other people though. 

When it comes to labeling food for ingredients, typically the top 8 allergens are listed in bold on the bottom of the ingredient list if they are in the product. It's not required by law to say "made in a factory with" or "may contain trace amounts of nuts". I like to buy brands that do have those warnings on their products so I at least know if I don't see the warning on a specific product I would know they would write about it if there was cross contamination risks.

The Facebook moms call and email and get ahold of all of the major company reps and post the responses. Based on current law, sesame doesn't have to be labeled on ingredients lists in food, it can be labeled as "spices," so that's a gamble anyway.  I'm not comfortable with "may contain nuts" "made in a factory with nuts" "may contain trace amounts of nuts" "share equipment with nut containing products".  I am comfortable if a company promises to clean equipment thoroughly and "guarantees" excellent allergen attention. For example ABC Bakery that does Girl Scout cookies have a lot of safe options but some of the other Girl Scout cookie bakeries are not. 

Things I avoid buying at Grocery store that I used to get:
  • Ice Cream (all brands, all flavors)
  • Cookies (except oreos, I'm sure theres a few other brands I could eat but most no)
  • Chinese/Asian/Thai bagged seasonings or frozen Chinese food
  • BREAD - There's quite a few brands that say "may contain nuts" ! I have to read every label
  • Peanut butter and nuts and almond milk 

  • UGH AND SHAKEOLOGY even though it's not at the grocery store this was my saddest loss

I don't have a ton of trouble at restaurants.  I am able to trust most of them that aren't Asian inspired. Asian restaurants cook a lot with sesame and peanut oil (my allergist said peanut oil is fine), and they use nuts in their ingredients. Peanut butter is occasionally in Mexican sauces or chili but I just ask about that ahead of time. 

If restaurants fry nuts (like as an appetizer), then all their oil is contaminated and that's a problem I've run into at Blatt Beer and Table. I had a hamburger on the grill there and couldn't have anything fried so I had carrots as my side. Pitch Pizza said all of their pizzas may be contaminated by peanuts/sesame with their asian pizzas in their coal fire oven...I'm still investigating that one but I ordered wings last time to be safe. 

The last thing I ask about is do they crust anything in nuts before they fry- sometimes people have almond crusted chicken or fish - and if that goes in the oil then I can't have any of their other fried food either. Usually I look at the menu ahead of time to check for that stuff ^ , tell my waiter/ask them if they see concerns , they usually ask the chef and then it's probably fine. I don't care if restaurants have nuts/peanut butter in their kitchen. I just tell them about my allergy and hopefully they keep them away.

Fast food places have sesame seed buns sometimes, it depends how I feel that day if I give them a shot. If I have something important going on that day I probably won't visit Burger King, Raising Canes, or Runza and ruin my day by accidentally ingesting a sesame seed that got thrown in my chicken strips.  I've eaten at Canes and Runza and been fine, I just look at the food first for seeds. I don't care if fast food restaurants have nuts in the kitchen though, usually it's in a salad and it's no where near my food. BUT you won't find me eating any Dairy Queen, Culvers, etc, blizzards sharing that mixing equipment with all of their Snickers, Reeses, and peanut butter stuff. 

As my dental hygenist told me last week after we talked about dining out with food allergies:
"Well, when it's your time, it's your time ya know?" 

----I guess ?!  


  1. Did you develop these allergies randomly all of a sudden with your crazy Sephora incident? If so, I didn't realize allergies could be developed that quickly/severely!

    1. Yeah! I didn't know I had them until I reacted in Sephora. It could have been me biting my nails after putting on a type of face oil on my hands that had almond oil as a main ingredient. .....or it was some sort of contamination with nuts in my lunch that day and it reacted an hour later

  2. What an interesting story on food allergies. I really liked how you started the article with your personal story of learning about your allergy, especially your honesty about your fears with it. It as really insightful to see how you, with a nut allergy, have proceeded to cope with this allergy. Thank you for all of the great information about allergies!

    1. Michael, thanks for the comment. It's hard for people without food allergies to understand, but it's very stressful sometimes. I've found that time has been helping me cope and that it doesn't have to limit my life as much as I think. I'm travelling to Europe this summer! Nervous about this with the allergies but I've been doing a lot of research and won't let the nut allergies hold me back.


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