Having a food allergy doesn’t mean that you or your little one has to miss out! Given that a staggering 2 million people in the UK are living with a diagnosed food allergy (not including those with a food intolerance), there is so much more awareness now surrounding allergies; which is great for allergy sufferers and the law protects you to make sure you are able to make informed decisions about what (or not) to eat.
Nevertheless, eating out with an allergy can understandably bring a whole new level of anxiety; particularly if this is something new to you as a parent of an allergy sufferer.
Hopefully this blog will help you understand what restaurants have to do by law, along with some helpful tips to help you when eating out so that you feel more comfortable and in control discussing allergies.
What are Food Businesses required to do…. by law?
Eating out or ordering in… Food businesses are under the same legislation when it comes to the provision of allergen information to customers. By law, food businesses must provide allergen information regarding the 14 major allergens to customers upon request.
However, how they do it is totally up to them! They may choose to provide allergen information in writing; for example, on a chalkboard, menu or allergen matrix, or they may choose to communicate allergen information verbally. If allergen information is not provided upfront, food businesses must instead display a notice advising customers of how to obtain allergen information.
Just be aware that the law doesn’t mean that they have to serve you an alternative if there is nothing on the menu you can eat! Of course, this makes for good customer service if they do, but the legal requirement is for businesses to provide the information to allow you to make a decision as to which foods you can enjoy safely…. if any.
Top 5 Tips to help you When Eating Out with an Allergy:
Check before you go…
If you or your child suffers with an allergy, there’s no doubt that you’ll want to check the menu before you go. This will not only give you a good indication of the variety of food available, but you may also find that some restaurants (particularly chains) provide allergen information online too! If you do obtain allergen information in advance though, make sure you always double check with the waiter before you order… just in case!
Before heading out, you should also always make sure you check the Food Hygiene Rating. Whilst the Food Hygiene Rating is not solely based on the allergen management within a restaurant, it will provide you with a snapshot picture of the standards found at the time of inspection, including how food safety is managed on site. In particular, an inspection looks at:
- How hygienically food is handled, stored and prepared
- The cleanliness and physical condition of the premises; including pest control, layout, ventilation and lighting
- How food safety is managed and the confidence in management to maintain standards in the future
Where a premises has a low food hygiene rating, this indicates that their standards require improving; which is something you may want to bear in mind when eating out with an allergy.
Once you’ve decided on somewhere to eat, make sure you make the restaurant aware of your allergies and always ask… Even if it’s somewhere you’ve eaten a hundred times before and know the menu off by heart!
A different chef, a last minute ingredient substitution or a recipe change is all it takes for an allergen to be present that may not have been present in the many times before.
It is shocking to hear that nearly one in ten of young people (16-24) with food allergies or intolerances keep their condition hidden, risking allergic reactions or even fatal consequences. If your little one has allergies, make sure you lead by example and always ask so that they grow up empowered to ask about allergens when eating out, ultimately helping them make safe food choices.
And remember that vegan does not mean it is safe to assume it is safe for allergy sufferers, so if you have an allergy, always discuss this with your waiter and don’t make any assumptions.
Keep it Clear
It can be extremely frustrating and stressful when you’re discussing allergies with a waiter who just doesn’t seem to ‘get’ your allergy or what you’re trying to tell them.
It is always best to use the allergen names that staff would find on the label or back of pack and therefore would be widely familiar with to avoid any confusion or miscommunication. For example, use ‘milk’ instead of ‘dairy’ when discussing your food allergies at a restaurant; which can be particularly important in situations where there may be a language barrier.
Alternatively, you could also carry an allergen card on you, which could include translations and universal infographics to help you ensure there is no misunderstanding with the restaurant about the nature of your allergy.
If in doubt, always check as your food arrives and if you’re not confident that they have fully understood, don’t take the risk.
Be aware of Cross-contamination
Unfortunately, most food businesses will not have the luxury of different equipment to cater for different allergens; for example, chips may be cooked in the same fryer that has been previously used to cooked fish therefore presenting a risk of cross-contamination. It’s always worth bearing this in mind when discussing your food allergies with the restaurant and don’t be afraid to ask them about the risk of cross-contamination when cooking.
In addition, if you can, it’s always best to avoid buffets as there is often a higher risk of cross-contamination from multiple people using the same serving spoons. However, if unavoidable, make sure you discuss your allergy with the restaurant, and they may even be happy to cater for you separately to ensure you can enjoy your meal safely.
And last but definitely not least…..
Always check you have your auto-injector with you (or two if your allergy is severe!).
No injector = No Food
If you’ve had a good experience, try to leave a positive review for others to see or let the business know that you appreciate their effort and understanding. On the other hand, if you have had a negative experience or believe you have suffered a reaction due to incorrect allergen information being provided, you can report this to your local authority Environmental Health team. Environmental Health officers will be in a position to investigate this with the food business on your behalf.
Hopefully this blog has helped to empower you with some tips to discussing your allergies when dining out, particularly if this is a new experience for you as a parent of an allergy sufferer. We want our children to grow up feeling empowered to ask about their allergens and changes are definitely on the horizon to make sure that this is the case for our little ones!
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