TIPS TO EAT OUT
The mission of Specialgourmets is to give people with food allergies and celiac disease more options to enjoy the culinary riches of the world, and ensure that their traveling and dining experiences are safer. To this end, the system was developed in a way such that all users can review and rate all establishments, quickly correct and update information and be alerted of changes. Still, it would be impossible for us to make sure that all information posted will be accurate all the time. We therefore urge you to always verify all information and inform any establishment about your dietary requirements. Also, meals can be prepared in different ways, restaurant staff and food suppliers can change, so the report of a positive experience by someone with the same dietary restriction at a particular place does not necessarily mean that you can dine safely at that place without taking some precautions. Here is a list with some tips which we believe should always be followed to ensure a safe dinning experience.
1. Plan ahead and check the menu in advance. Many restaurants now have their menus online, and some even have separate gluten-free and allergen-free menus. Checking the menu before can ensure you will have good and safe dining options, as well as facilitate the communication with the chef and restaurant staff.
2. Call in advance, preferentially not in busy hours.
If possible, try to talk to the chef and explain your condition thoroughly. Calling in advance will enable you to detail the specificities of your needs, the necessary measures to prevent cross-contamination and therefore to know whether the restaurant can safely accommodate a meal for you. Also, some components that go into the dishes are prepared in advance, so calling ahead will give the restaurant time to better accommodate your needs and ensure that everything is prepared for you following a safe procedure (something which might be impossible during busy hours).
3. Avoid the peak hours. Eating a bit earlier than usual means staff will be able to pay more attention to your needs.
4. Always remind the staff about your dietary needs, even if you called in advance. Explain your restrictions politely and in detail, and make sure the waiters/waitresses know how serious your dietary needs are. Do not forget to mention the possibility of cross-contamination through kitchen utensils, surfaces, grills and frying oil and the need to check ingredient labels. If you are not sure that they understand the importance of being extra-careful, it is better to eat somewhere else.
5. Know what to avoid. You should always know other names for the food item that you cannot eat, and where it might be hidden. To this end, be familiar with the hidden sources of the offending food, read the menu carefully, and remember that not all ingredients of a dish are listed in the menu, so it is essential to ask the staff to check with the chef (or preferentially talk to the chef personally) if any ingredient containing the offending food may have been used. For example, if you cannot eat gluten be extra careful about sauces (wheat is usually used for thickening), processed food may have hidden proteins derived from egg, milk and soy, and if you are allergic to seafood/fish be extra careful about Chinese, Thai and Vietnamese food (they can contain oyster sauce and fish sauce). Asian dishes, pesto as well as desserts are usually also dangerous for people with peanut and tree nuts allergies. At the end of this list there are links to sites that provide information on hidden sources of the most common food allergens.
6. Take a chef card with you.
Kitchens are busy and noisy environments, so the information about your food allergy may not be transferred with accuracy to the chef and the kitchen staff. Remember that there are many details that are important, many potential sources of the offending food and many procedures to follow to ensure that your meal is safely prepared, and it might be too difficult for a waiter/waitress to memorize all that information. One way to ensure that the kitchen staff and chef are aware of all the details of your food needs is to use a chef card, which is a personalized card on which you can write down your dietary needs, hidden sources of the offending food and suggest procedures to avoid cross-contamination. We have prepared a number of chef cards which you can customize to your needs and print. To view, choose and download the cards, click here.
7. Try to ask simple dishes, instead of dishes containing many ingredients, condiments and sauces.
8. Avoid buffets, self-service areas and sweet trolleys. Although there might be dishes that do not contain the food you cannot eat, it is easy for the wrong food to spread from one container to another (for example if people use the same spoons for different dishes).
9. Always take your allergy medications with you if you have a food allergy, .
10. Always acknowledge good service and thank the restaurant staff for the extra effort in accommodating your needs.
Below is a list of sites that give information on the most common hidden sources of the main food allergens.
INFORMATION ON HIDDEN SOURCES OF COMMON FOOD ALLERGIES
- 1. PDF Brochures from Health Canada
- 2. Common Food Allergens (The Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network)
- 3. Food Allergy Information (the Food Allergy Initiative)
- 1. Alérgenos (Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network)
- 2. Asociación Española de Alérgicos a Alimentos
- 3. Asociación Madrilena de Alergias Alimentarias
- 1. Sources possibles (Agence canadienne d’inspection des aliments)
- 1. Alimenti pericolosi (Food Allergy Italia)
INFORMATION ON HIDDEN SOURCES OF GLUTEN
- 1. Celiac Disease Survival Guide (National Foundation for Celiac Awareness)
- 1. Il Prontuario In Internet (Associazione Italiana Celiachia)
- 1. Produits génériques Autorisés / interdits (l'Association Française Des Intolérants Au Gluten)
- 1. Manual do Celíaco (Acelbra, RJ)
- 1. Guía de Alimentos e Medicamentos (ACELA, Argentina)
- 2. Alimentos que pueden contener glúten (FACE, España)
- 1. Verstecktes Gluten (Deutsche Zoliakie-Gesellschaft e.V.)