Navigating Food Allergies when Dining Out

Researchers estimate that 32 million Americans have food allergies, and studies show that they are becoming more and more common. In fact, the prevalence of food allergies in children increased by 50 percent between 1997 and 2011. It’s also a good idea to think carefully about the risks associated with dining out. Each year in the U.S.,  200,000 people require emergency medical care for allergic reactions to food. It makes sense to plan ahead so that you can enjoy your meal without having to worry about potential complications from your allergy.

To help ensure your restaurant experience is as pleasant and safe as possible, follow these key steps:

Research restaurant options in advance

If you have been diagnosed with a food allergy, you should have a general sense of the foods—and/or cuisines—you need to avoid. For example, someone with an allergy to shellfish may want to steer clear of a restaurant that specializes in seafood. Read through the menus of the restaurants you are considering online (or call ahead). This allows you to familiarize yourself with what they serve before you arrive. Consider a variety of options so that you can choose a restaurant that’s most agreeable for you. 

Be up-front about allergies

Let the people you’re dining with and the wait staff know about your allergen triggers. Don’t be embarrassed or apologetic. As mentioned earlier, food allergies are a common condition and restaurants are used to dealing with special requests. You may want to consider dining during off hours so that the wait and kitchen staff aren’t feeling rushed and can give your concerns the attention they deserve. You may also want to consider carrying a “chef card” that clearly outlines the foods you must avoid.

Always be prepared

If you have a severe food allergy, carry the medication you need (such as an epinephrine injection) whenever you dine out. Even those who have milder reactions may be more comfortable if they have a reliable form of symptom relief in their purse or pocket.

Consider advanced blood testing to identify specific allergen triggers for a more targeted treatment plan.

In the past, standard clinical management for food allergies involved assessment of someone’s symptoms and history, followed by skin prick testing and perhaps an oral food challenge. But the field of allergy diagnosis has evolved considerably. Now, there are enhanced methods that allow allergies to be diagnosed more quickly and easily than ever.

Today, a routine blood test coupled with advanced diagnostics can help pinpoint which specific food proteins someone is sensitized to. In addition, these tests can help determine where someone falls on the spectrum of possible reactions. They can also help identify who may be most at risk of anaphylaxis.

By planning ahead and taking advantage of the advanced testing that can determine specific triggers and risks, people with food allergies can confidently join in on a pleasurable experience once again.

Rebecca Rosenberger, MMSc, PA-C

Rebecca has been a Physician Assistant for over 20 years and spent the majority of that time working for an allergy, asthma and immunology practice in Summit, NJ. Currently she continues to practice in this setting a few days a month as well as at her position as Associate Director of the Clinical Affairs & Education team with Thermo Fisher Scientific. She attended Seton Hall University for her undergraduate degree and Yale University School of Medicine for her PA degree. Upon graduation, she spent a few years working in a medical publishing company with Clinician Reviews, a national PA/NP publication, as National Sales Manager. She has also been Clinical Coordinator for the DeSales University PA Program in Center Valley, PA. Additionally, her clinical experiences have included practicing in Emergency Medicine in Trenton, NJ as well as an ENT practice in Bethlehem, PA. During her time as a PA she has also enjoyed participating on the national board for the Association of Physician Assistants in Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (APA-AAI).



  1. Pi Onesky on October 20, 2021 at 4:41 pm

    Would have been nice if the author would have spelled out exactly what “advanced testing” methods are now available, so that readers can research their usefulness and potentially ask their doctors to order them.

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