Eating out

While eating out may pose extra risks, people with food allergies shouldn’t feel excluded from this important activity, which is so intrinsically linked to relationship building, social interaction and celebration.

With a growing number of people affected by food allergies, it’s also vital that all restaurants provide a safe environment for customers, with the right information, and good staff attitude and awareness. Below we’ve compiled tips and advice on how to confidently manage eating out, to keep it a safe and enjoyable experience.

Before you go

You might like to run through a risk checklist before you eat out:
  • right_arrow_orange_icon Who am I going out with and what do I need to tell them about my allergy?
  • right_arrow_orange_icon How will I check the food is OK for me?
  • right_arrow_orange_icon Can I get us to eat somewhere else?
  • right_arrow_orange_icon How will I talk to the staff and what will I say?
  • right_arrow_orange_icon Will I be drinking? Will my friends be drinking?
  • right_arrow_orange_icon If I have a reaction, how would I call an ambulance? What would I say? Who will I tell?

Before you go: general tips

Before eating out, it’s wise to prepare an allergy action plan with your doctor or specialist and carry it with your emergency medication at all times. You should also discuss the risks with your doctor. For example, be aware that factors such as alcohol, tiredness, infections, poorly treated asthma can raise the risk of a reaction being severe.

Below you will find other helpful tips to bear in mind when eating out.

If the risks are high on a particular occasion, it may be best not to eat anything or eat elsewhere.

 

  • Be risk aware

    Be aware of the sorts of foods that may be high risk for your particular allergy. For example, oriental cuisine is likely to be high risk if you have a nut allergy. If you’re fish/seafood allergic you should avoid restaurants that specialise in fish/seafood dishes.

  • Discuss your options

    Grilled food may be safer than fried as frying pans/woks may not be cleaned thoroughly after cooking allergenic dishes. However some restaurants cook everything on the same griddle area, fish, meat, etc. Please discuss with the eatery.

  • Look out for hidden allergens

    Be cautious of any dishes with sauces or dressings unless you’re certain of what they contain. Sauces may contain hidden allergens such as wheat flour. Indian dishes/curries may be thickened with peanut flour or ground almonds. Bread rolls can often contain nuts or seeds.

  • Always check

    Be aware that recipes for a particular dish can vary from one restaurant to another, and even in the same restaurant. A different chef may add or leave out particular ingredients. So just because you’ve eaten something on one occasion and been OK, doesn’t mean the dish is necessarily safe next time. ALWAYS check!

  • If uncertain, bring your own

    If you plan to attend a catered event where the food will be prepared in advance, ask if it’s possible to provide an allergy-friendly option, but be prepared to wait whilst staff find your special food. If this isn’t possible or if there’s any uncertainty, bring your own safe option.

  • Do your research

    If you have time, check restaurant websites for allergen information. Pick one or two dishes from the menu and call ahead of your visit to ask if these dishes will be suitable, how the food is prepared and whether cross contamination with your allergens is likely. Ask if the person you’ve spoken to is likely to be present when you visit. If not, ask for details of the best person to speak to.

  • Avoid busy periods

    Ideally, visit when the restaurant is likely to be less busy, e.g. earlier in the evening of on a weekday (rather than Friday or Saturday night). 

  • Call ahead of ordering

    If ordering remotely, always phone the restaurant in person to discuss your allergy requirements, don’t rely on notes or messages relayed online or through apps that may get missed.

  • Be wary of buffets

    Unless you are served first, avoid buffet/self-serve style restaurants as there’s likely to be a high risk of cross-contamination. Sometimes staff may take your food off the buffet before other people serve themselves.

  • Be prepared

    Make sure you have your medication with you, that it’s in date and that you know how to use it. At least one person dining with you should know about your allergy and understand how to support you.

restaurant staff help allergy information
title_img

When you get there

When you arrive at a restaurant, you should ask to speak to the person you talked with on the phone, or the person recommended. If you don’t have a specific named individual, ask to speak to the chef or at least for your request to be relayed to the chef.

You should consider the below when speaking to restaurant staff.

  • right_arrow_orange_icon Ask about the dish/es that you’d like to choose and if they’d be suitable.
  • right_arrow_orange_icon Ask about ingredients, how the food is prepared and whether cross contamination with your allergens is likely. Speak clearly, factually, politely and calmly.
  • right_arrow_orange_icon Ask the server to make a note of your allergy/ies. Give them the chef card if you have one.
  • right_arrow_orange_icon Confirm that the dish you would like to order is free from your allergen/s, derivatives and from cross contamination and that it has been prepared safely.
  • right_arrow_orange_icon If the staff member you speak to appears confident that the food you’re ordering is safe, then great! If you’re not confident that your request is being taken seriously, if they don’t seem to ‘get it’, if they can’t or won’t confirm that the food is free from your allergen/s, or if they won’t respond to your requests, it may be better to eat elsewhere. Tell them politely that you are unable to eat there and leave.
  • right_arrow_orange_icon When your food arrives, check again with the server that it doesn’t contain your allergen/s and that it is what you have ordered.
  • right_arrow_orange_icon Remember, allergens can appear in alcoholic drinks, so check with bar staff before you order anything exotic.
  • right_arrow_orange_icon Watch out for peanut/nut bar snacks.
discussing law allergies
title_img

The law

Food businesses aren’t obliged by law to serve you or to sell you anything if they don’t want to, so it’s possible that they may say they’re unable to provide any safe food for you. However, if they do agree to serve you, then there are a number of different laws that they must abide by. In particularly they must tell the truth and must not mislead.

The law: The European Union Food Information for Consumers Regulation

The European Union Food Information for Consumers Regulation came into force on 13 December 2014.

The main change in relation to food allergy was the new requirement for businesses to provide allergy information for foods sold without packaging. This covers foods sold loose (such as from a deli counter), in catering establishments or, sold pre-packed for direct sale (such as bread or cakes in a bakery or sandwiches from a sandwich bar). The way in which the information has to be provided is not defined and each country can provide guidance and advice to businesses on how such information could be provided.

Information on any of the 14 allergens used as ingredients will need to be provided for foods sold without packaging or wrapped on site. This information could be written down on a chalk board or chart, or provided orally by a member of staff. Where the specific allergen information is not provided upfront, clear signposting to where this information could be obtained must be provided. These rules will only cover information about major allergens intentionally used as ingredients.

If you are sold a particular dish that has been confirmed as being free of a specific allergen, and is subsequently found to contain that allergen (usually when someone has an allergic reaction to the food), then the food is not of the substance demanded by the purchaser and the business that supplied the food is breaking the law.

 

  • Article 14

    Article 14 of the EC General Food Law Regulation prohibits unsafe food from being placed on the market. In determining if a food is unsafe, consideration must be given “to the information provided to the consumer, including information on the label, or other information generally available to the consumer concerning the avoidance of specific adverse health effects from a particular food or category of foods.”

  • Article 16

    Article 16 of the Regulation requires that the labelling, advertising and presentation of food, including the information made available, should not mislead consumers.

  • Section 14

    Section 14 of the Food Safety Act 1990 makes it an offence for anyone to sell to the purchaser’s prejudice, any food which is not of the nature, substance or quality demanded by the purchaser.

What if something goes wrong?

  • Always tell someone you’re with that you think you’re having a reaction straightaway.
  • Don’t go to the toilet/outside alone.
  • Treat your reaction according to your emergency care plan, and dial 999/get a friend to do so.
  • Tell/get one of your friends to tell a staff member that you having an allergic reaction.
  • If possible ask a friend to take a sample of the food and to hold on to it. This may be the last thing on your mind if you’re having a reaction, but a sample of the food may be the only way to demonstrate that a crime has been committed. However, don’t do this at the expense of treating your reaction!

Afterwards

  • Prepare a report of the incident, starting with the decision to order the food. How did you choose your meal? If it was online, have you got the actual menu? Did you mention your allergy? To whom and when?
  • What was said to you and by whom? How did you know what was in the meal?
  • Prepare a statement of all the decisions and events which took place in order, ideally with some idea of the timings. If you have a sample of the food left, double wrap it carefully in clean plastic bags / cling film, label it and freeze it for now.
  • If a friend or family member was present / involved, ask them to make a note of their own recollection of what happened. You should add a record of what exactly you ate / where and when? This should include details of symptoms in order, timings, emergency management, treatment etc.

The law

You may have two main options in law…

  1. Criminal legislation is enforced through local enforcement authorities, so you can report the reaction to your local council food safety or food standards (Environmental Health or Trading Standards ) team. You can find details via your local council website here. The restaurant/takeaway may have broken criminal law about selling safe food, or misdescribing it. If you have a sample of the food that caused your reaction, they may be able to take it as evidence and get it tested to see if it contained your problem allergen.
  2. You can make a civil claim, i.e. claim some financial compensation for the injury you suffered. Sometimes it is easier to do this after a criminal local authority investigation has taken place. You may need help from a lawyer.

How it might go...

If you are worried about what you should do if a problem arises while eating out, the following scenarios may help you to understand what actions to take.

  • Scenario 1: Staff can’t or won’t tell you if any of the food, or any dish you ask about contains or is free from your problem food. Or they seem unsure.

    What to do
    Don’t eat. Either encourage your friends to eat elsewhere, just have a safe drink and enjoy their company, or arrange to meet them later. Try to speak with staff before any orders are taken.

  • Scenario 2: Your friends want to go to the local Indian for a meal. You know the risk is very high for you as you have a severe peanut and nut allergy.

    What to do
    Have a couple of popular (but safer) alternatives ready to suggest.
    If they insist on going, you could go with them and just have a drink. (But be aware that there are likely to be meals with nuts being served and consequently the possibility of cross contamination.)
    Don’t be afraid of saying you’d rather not go, but will arrange to meet them later. Practise beforehand what you’re going to say.

  • Scenario 3: You’re in a restaurant and realise you’ve forgotten to bring your adrenaline auto-injector (EpiPen, Jext or Emerade) with you.

    What to do
    If you don’t live too far away, go home and get it, or ask the designated driver to take you.
    Phone your parent or helpful sibling to see if they’ll drop it off for you.
    If neither of these options is possible, don’t eat anything! No injector, no food!

  • Scenario 4: You’ve just started on your main course and your lips start to tingle; this is usually a warning sign for you that an allergic reaction is starting.

    What to do
    Stop eating.
    Get your adrenaline injector ready to use in case your symptoms get worse.
    Tell your friend/s you may be having an allergic reaction and, if possible, ask one of them to get a sample of the food you’ve been eating.
    Call a member of staff, tell them you think you may be having an allergic reaction and ask them to double check that the food you’ve eaten doesn’t contain your problem allergen.
    If you feel sick and need to go to the toilet or outside for some air, ask your friend to go with you. Don’t lock the toilet door.
    If your reaction starts to get worse, follow your allergy action plan.