Eating in restaurants with food allergies and Celiac disease

Why I used to risk and it no longer do

A 15-year-old British teen died this week after eating Chinese takeout that unbeknownst to him was prepared in peanut oil. Such a tragedy knowing that this accident could have been prevented. My heart goes out to his family and friends.

This story reaffirms my decision to not eat in restaurants. Yes, it’s inconvenient and creates a lot of extra work but in the end this choice helps me stay safe and avoid potential life-threatening reactions.

I regularly ate in restaurants prior to my Celiac disease diagnosis. Growing up, my family and I typically ate a couple times a week. My parents were extra cautious and taught me to always ask the server which type of oil was used in the kitchen, and I always notified him of my severe allergies to tree nuts, peanuts, citrus fruits, fish and shellfish.

  • Side note, never ask a server if the restaurant uses peanut oil because he’ll usually say no. Instead, ask him what type of oil because he’ll probably have to ask the cook who will provide a more accurate answer.

Peanut-Oil

We also avoided Asian restaurants like the plague because of their reputation of using peanut oil or sauces and tried to dine at regular spots once we learned that were aware of cross contamination.

In college and after, I tried to keep myself safe by sticking to pizza and pastas while dining out because I figured they were free of my allergens. I didn’t have any serious reactions, but often found myself with hives shortly after eating and needing to take Benadryl. This made my boyfriend at the time, now husband, very nervous. Let’s just say he doesn’t want to ever have to use an Epi-Pen.

epipen-jpeg

Then in 2008, I was diagnosed with Celiac disease (requiring me to eliminate gluten from my diet) and a soy allergy. These new dietary restrictions make it difficult to order anything at a restaurant. I found an upscale steakhouse, appropriate for business meals, that was willing to accomodate me, but after have a few mild gluten and allergy reactions, I ended my relationship with restaurants.

I’m not telling you that you shouldn’t eat in restuarants if you have allergies or Celiac disease, I’m just asking you if it’s worth the risk? If you have food allergies, one meal can land you in the ICU like my family friend. For those with Celiac disease, even a small amount of gluten from careless food prep can cause damage to your body.

The decision for me wasn’t easy. Going out to eat is a social occasion and is very ingrained in our lifestyle. BUT, I will tell you that since I made the decision to stop eating at restaurants two years ago, I haven’t turned into a closeted hermit. I travel many times a year for work and fun and have perfected the art of requesting microfridges and staying at condos with kitchens. I also regularly enjoy the company of friends and family at restaurants and no longer find not ordering awkward. Sometimes I eat beforehand or I’ll ask the server to microwave my meal in a Tupperware container. From time to time, servers are rude and won’t help, but for the most part people are willing to help me in my quest to stay healthy!

Surprised by how well my husband's company knows me! This was my name card (said "no meal") at the Christmas party.

Surprised by how well my husband’s company knows me! This was my name card (said “no meal”) at the Christmas party.

Let me know how you deal with your food allergies or gluten free diet while eating out.

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