Eating out with a peanut allergy

Eating out should be an enjoyable experience but if you have a peanut allergy you need to take extra precautions.

Most people enjoy eating out with their family and friends. Michigan State University Extension encourages families and friends to eat together because of the many benefits of eating together. People eat better and are emotionally healthier when they eat with others. But those who have a food allergy often are fearful that they may be served food that can give them an allergic reaction. An allergic reaction may be a minor or a major reaction that can range from an unpleasant experience to a life threatening experience.

Depending on the person, an allergic reaction can happen just after the food is eaten or several hours later. Food allergic reactions, including peanuts, include: Nausea, sneezing or shortness of breath, hives, swelling of various parts of the body, including the face, eyes, hands or feet, dizziness, lightheadedness, vomiting and/or diarrhea and abdominal pain. At first, symptoms may be mild, but they can become serious quickly. In severe cases, anaphylaxis, a severe allergic reaction that can lead to death, may occur.

MSU Extension offers tips to help those who eat out and have a peanut allergy:

  • Always ask about the ingredients and the way food is prepared before you order. Even if the restaurant is part of a chain, there can be differences between restaurants. When you eat out notify the eating establishment of your food allergy each time you go, even if you have previously eaten there and are ordering the same safe item again. Subtle changes may be made to the menu or item that could be relevant.
  • Call a restaurant between meal hours and discuss the allergy with the chef.
  • Order simply prepared foods. Foods such as baked potatoes, steamed vegetables and broiled meat are less likely to create problems. Avoid added sauces and flavorings.
  • Avoid buffets and salad bars.
  • Know that peanut butter is sometimes used as a thickener, or even to hide a burnt taste in spaghetti sauce, chili or gravy. Peanuts may also be used in pie crusts.
  • Ask what oil is used. Most good Italian restaurants use olive oil, but it’s best to check. Fondues and stir-fries often use peanut oil because of its high smoking point.

Always be prepared. Don’t let your guard down. At all times, make sure to have your food allergy medications with you such as injectable epinephrine and an antihistamine. A severe allergic reaction can be life-threatening, so it is most important to have your emergency medication with you. Most importantly is to be as careful as possible when eating out by using the above information.

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