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Jason H. Friesen, M.D.

Allergy, Asthma & Immunology

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Ask a Doctor: What are some tips for dining out with food allergies?

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130930foodallergy1Eating out is fun. It allows us to socialize and enjoy good food prepared by someone else. With our busy schedules, restaurants are an important part of many lifestyles.

In fact, 44 percent of adults say restaurants are an essential part of their routines, according to the National Restaurant Association. But if you or someone in your family has a food allergy, eating out can be stressful.

Here are some simple tips to make eating out as safe and stress-free as possible:

Be prepared and bring your epinephrine. This is important. Epinephrine is like an insurance policy. You would rather it was there and never used than needed and it not be there. Read: Is my EpiPen still good?
Do your research. Many restaurants have online menus. A call to the restaurant might be helpful, as well. Websites exist with growing databases of “allergy friendly” restaurants.
Communicate. Always alert your server or the manager about your allergy. They should be willing and able to communicate your needs to the kitchen. Because food allergies are more common these days, it’s unlikely you’ll be the first food allergic individual they’ve accommodated.
Keep meals simple and safe. Simple dishes that are made from scratch are safest, because the ingredients are known.
Eat at slow times. Consider dining during off-peak hours, so the restaurant staff can devote more time and attention to your special needs.
If in doubt, leave it out. If there is any question as to whether your meal will be allergen-free, it is best to avoid the risk and politely leave.

States take legislative action
The Food Allergy Awareness Act enacts rules for more than 14,000 Massachusetts eating establishments. The state of Massachusetts is implementing a set of regulations designed to increase food allergy awareness in restaurants. The  regulations will require:
1. A reminder on menus for diners to tell servers about their food allergies.
2. Food allergy awareness posters visible to staff.
3. Food allergy awareness certification for at least one member of the staff.

Other states, including New York, Minnesota and Pennsylvania, are reviewing initiatives to increase food allergy awareness in food establishments. Unfortunately, Oregon does not have plans for a similar law, but speaking to your representative can make a difference. By increasing awareness and encouraging communication, reactions may be prevented.

Food allergy statistics:
● It is estimated that the number of cases of anaphylaxis from foods in the United States increased from 21,000 per year in 1999 to 51,000 per year in 2008.
From 2003 to 2006, food allergies resulted in approximately 317,000 visits to hospital emergency departments, outpatient clinics and physician’s offices.

If you have food allergies, you can still enjoy the convenience and experience of dining out. Do your homework, communicate well and enjoy every single bite.

Board certified in pediatrics, as well as allergy and immunology, Dr. Jason Friesen sees patients of all ages. Caring and bright, he is passionate about finding a balance between the seriousness of food allergies and the importance of leading full and normal lives