Thursday, June 20, 2013

Restaurants and food allergies

Yesterday I went to a new place for lunch and ordered a cookie. I asked if it had nuts in it and I was told it didn't. Well, when I bit into it I discovered it did.

Luckily I am only allergic to some tree nuts, not the walnuts that were in the cookie. Also, I am not anaphylactic to tree nuts the way I am to fish. They just make me violently ill, but I think about what could have happened to someone who is anaphylactic to walnuts. 

Cody has skin tested allergic to peanuts and tree nuts, but we don't know the severity of his allergy. Our house is peanut and tree nut free. I can't help but think, what if he bit into that cookie?

I realize and take full responsibility for the fact that I didn't ask the question in the right way. I didn't mention an allergy to nuts. I will be sure to do that in the future.

Still, it is scary to me that this happened. Especially because I know firsthand that even the tiniest amount of an allergen can cause an anaphylactic reaction. 

I think one of the biggest challenges of food allergies is that people don't realize that a minuscule amount can cause a full-blown, life threatening reaction. I think many restaurants are getting better and I appreciate the effort they are making, but there is still a long way to go.

I have had to use epinepherine and go to the ER three times since we first found out I was severely allergic to fish when I was about three years old. All involved tiny amounts of fish, not even a full bite. One time was from french fries that were cooked with fish. Twice I was given incorrect information about the food I ate.  Another time I had a severe, intense asthma attack from being in a kitchen where someone was cooking fish. There were also a couple other times that I noticed I was starting to have a minor reaction from something I was eating that had obviously come in contact with fish.

I am very careful about where I eat, what I order, the questions I ask and I listen to the way the answer is delivered when it comes to fish. I also look and smell before I eat. If I'm still suspicious I will ask again or put a tiny bit on my tongue and wait before continuing to eat. I'm not allergic to shellfish, but I long ago stopped ordering it for fear of cross contamination with fish (and my husband is allergic to shellfish). 

I can't yet imagine Cody being able to eat in a restaurant with multiple allergies. I'm sure that will change at some point, but right now it seems out of reach.

To give credit where credit is due, here are three of the best experiences I had dining out with a fish allergy. Oddly, two of these I would generally consider completely off-limits because of the type of food served.

Spiaggia Chicago
My husband and I splurged for our 5th anniversary. This place is amazing. Probably the best meal I have ever eaten.
Before we ordered, our server asked if we had any food allergies. They made changes to their regular tasting menu to accommodate us and assured us our food would be prepared safely without us having to ask.

Pappadeaux Seafood Kitchen
Yes, a seafood restaurant! I first went for a group dinner expecting to eat bread. After mentioning my allergy to our server the manager came to talk to me. We discussed what I wanted to order and she assured me that it would be prepared separately. The manager was so knowledgeable and made me feel so comfortable eating there, it became a favorite place. 

PF Changs
I consider Asian cuisine restaurants off-limits because of the fish sauce and oyster sauce used in so many dishes. But PF Changs will print out a menu listing what foods are safe for your particular allergy and they will prepare it separately. A manager came out to talk to us and was very knowledgeable.

I would love to hear your thoughts and experiences dining out with food allergies.

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