Helpful Hints

Dining & Shopping

Restaurants, Ice Cream Parlors and Coffee Shops

Dining out can be challenging for those with food allergies. Even if you’re a regular at a particular restaurant or coffee shop, take a moment to remind restaurant staff about your allergies and to inquire about food safety practices every time you visit.  Avoid peak dining hours when errors or oversights are more likely. 

Ask your Server, Chef and Restaurant Manager:

  • Can your meal be prepared in a special area to avoid the risk of cross-contamination?
  • What specific measures does the restaurant take to ensure that food is safe for those with food allergies?
  • Will your favorite meal be prepared as usual, without any ingredient substitutions?
  • Will the chef change gloves/apron before preparing your meal?
  • Will food be prepared on a clean skillet/grill?
  • Are all breads made in-house? If not, are they processed in a factory with your specific allergen?
  • Is your allergen present at or near food prep areas?
  • Are veggies/fruits prepared on a cutting board that is used for other foods? Which foods?
  • Is coffee or tea ever brewed in the same container/machine used for hazelnut coffee or another coffee with nuts or flavored coffee? 
  • Is non-dairy coffee creamer completely dairy-free or just lactose-free?
  • Items that were prepped early in the day were most likely not made with food allergies in mind.  Have them prepare your entire dish from scratch- including garnishes.

Certain restaurants and foods pose higher risks than others. For instance, individuals with seafood or shellfish allergies may wish to avoid seafood restaurants altogether, as it is extremely difficult for seafood chefs to avoid cross-contamination. 

You may wish to avoid fried foods when dining out, as many types of food are often cooked in the same oil.  This poses a high risk of cross contamination.

Always use caution when ordering foods/drinks that are prepared in a blender, like fruit smoothies or milkshakes. If you do order such foods, be sure to ask restaurant staff to prepare your food in a blender that has been thoroughly cleaned and sanitized.

At coffee shops, be sure to check the ingredients of flavored syrups used to prepare your drink.  Also, check to make sure there is no risk of cross contamination with the containers they use for brewing coffee or blending specialty drinks. 

Use extreme caution when dining at ice cream or frozen yogurt shops. Before you order, tell the server about your food allergies and ask if he or she can ensure that your dining experience will be a safe one. 

A few tips:

  • Avoid all toppings, as the risk of cross-contamination is extremely high.
  • Ask that a freshly cleaned/sanitized scoop be used for your order and that your ice cream/yogurt come from a new container.
  • Ask for an ingredients list and whether ice cream/yogurt has been processed in a facility where it could have come into contact with your allergens.
  • Ask the owner or manager how machines are cleaned when changing yogurt/soft serve flavors and whether you might be at risk for cross-contamination.
  • Before you order “dairy-free” products, ask whether they are completely free of milk products, not just lactose.


Grocery Stores, Bakeries and Delis

When grocery shopping, keep in mind, that food producers often change the ingredients in their products without warning. Always check ingredient labels before you buy, even when purchasing foods you’ve safely enjoyed before.

Because foods prepared on site—liked baked goods, meats and seafood—can pose higher risks of cross-contamination than pre-packaged foods; use extra caution when purchasing these items.

At the meat or seafood counter:

  • Ask the butcher to change his gloves and to get your meat from the locker, not the display case. 
  • Ask that the knife, cutting surface and scale be sterilized before your food is prepared.
  • Ask if there is a risk of cross contamination.

At the deli counter:

  • Ask your deli server to either hand slice meats/cheeses on a sterilized surface (with butcher paper over it) using a sterilized knife OR to sterilize the slicer before slicing your food.
  • Before ordering, ask whether cheese contains annatto (some processed cheeses do), which can pose risks for some individuals with tree nut allergies.
  • Ask to personally read all ingredient labels.

At the bakery:

  • Avoid purchasing cookies, pastries, birthday cakes and other baked goods from a bakery unless it is a bakery that specializes in nut-free baked goods or is free from your specific allergen.
  • If you insist on purchasing baked goods, share your food allergies with the bakery manager and ask him or her if there is anything safe for you to purchase.
  • Ask how baked goods are prepared and whether any special precautions are taken to avoid cross-contamination.


Travel, School and Service Providers

Before you travel, identify the ER or urgent care center that is closest to your destination. Be sure you know the hours of operation and the types of emergencies it is equipped to handle. Always travel with all of your medications and Epi-Pens.

Call ahead to make sure the mini bar in your hotel room will not contain any foods that you or your family is unable to eat. Check with the hotel manager to make sure the chef and other staff will be able to accommodate your special food requests. If possible, bring safe snacks with you.

If you a child with serious allergies, it is critical that anyone who works with your child at School understands that allergic reactions can be life threatening. Be sure an action plan is in place should your child come into contact with an allergen. The best way to do this is to meet with school administrators and staff before the start of the school year.

Some things to discuss before the start of the School Year:

  • Where will the Epi-Pen be stored?
  • Who, besides the nurse, will have access to it?
  • Who, besides the nurse, is trained to handle medical emergencies?
  • What symptoms need to be present in order for school staff to administer the Epi-Pen?  Each allergic reaction may present different symptoms.  Educate your caregivers as to when to use them!  Benadryl will NOT stop or prevent anaphylaxis.
  • How quickly will your child receive medical attention after showing the first signs of symptoms?  Make sure your action plan is clearly written and verbalized to all staff.
  • Are all teachers, administrators, aides, playground supervisors, volunteers and other staff members aware of your child’s allergies, and do they know what to do in case of an allergic reaction?
  • Is there a nut-free policy in place at the school?
  • Is there a policy in place that discourages/prohibits parents from bringing treats with peanuts and tree nuts into the classrooms? (If not, consider providing the teacher with a bag of safe snacks for birthday celebrations.)
  • How will class parties or Holiday Parties be handled for children with food allergies?  Will anyone be there to help them safely select/order food?

At the dentist’s office, make sure the dentist and all dental hygienists are aware of you or your child’s allergies and that all allergies are on file and verbalized each visit as a reminder. Ask what ingredients are used in flavored fluoride treatments. Depending on the allergy, dental service providers may choose to wear non-latex gloves (or not to polish the teeth at all with fluoride).

At spas and salons, be sure to ask whether aestheticians or stylists use products (including massage oils) that that contain tree nuts or your specific allergens. If the spa or salon does use such products, be sure that all towels, chairs, massage tables and preparation areas are clean and sanitized before your service. 

General Preparedness

How many Epi-Pens should you carry?
The Epi-Pen and Audi-Q come in convenient packs of two. However, we recommend that both you and your child have multiple Epi-Pens on hand and do NOT break up the set of two. Keep in mind that Epi-Pens can malfunction, and a biphasic anaphylactic reaction can occur and require more than one injection so always carry more than one. Likewise, if you’re hiking, camping or traveling, you may need more than one Epi-Pen before help arrives. The best way to ensure that you’re always prepared is to have multiple Epi-Pens with you at all times no matter where you are. 

Always check the expiration dates of medications you keep at home AND at your child’s school. Be sure to order medications ahead of time so that the pharmacist can get them to you before they expire. Add a reminder to your calendar to help you remember.

Our Safe Foodie Sticks that were created for you and your family, serve as vital and life-saving communication tools. Use them to support your child as he or she navigates the world at large and to educate caregivers, teachers and the food industry about food allergies.