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Eating out

Chickpea curry Some people need to be more careful than others to avoid the food they are sensitive to. This is because a tiny amount could make them very ill or cause a life-threatening reaction. The advice in this section is aimed at people with more severe food allergies or severe coeliac disease.

If you have a severe allergy or severe coeliac disease, remember that when you eat food prepared by someone else, for example in a restaurant, you can't be absolutely sure that it won't contain the food you are sensitive to.

There are some things you can do to reduce the chances of having a problem.

Tell the restaurant

  • When you book a table at a restaurant, tell the person taking the booking about your food allergy and ask them to check with the chef if they can provide you with a meal that doesn't contain the food you are sensitive to. If they are not sure, it's better to eat somewhere else.
  • When you arrive at a restaurant, make sure the waiter or waitress knows about your allergy and how serious it is. If you are not confident that they understand how important it is for you to avoid a particular food then it's better not to eat there.
  • You can help make sure restaurant staff know which foods you're allergic to, by giving them a 'chef card'. Why don't you use the form below to fill in the food you're allergic to, then cut-out the cards and carry them with you? And next time you're eating out, you can give one of these handy 'chef cards' to the person serving you.

Ask about the dishes

  • Read the menu carefully to see if there is any mention of the food you are sensitive to in the name or description of a dish. Remember that the food might not be mentioned, so always check with the waiter or waitress.
  • Tell them what dishes you are planning to order and ask them to check with the chef that they definitely do not contain the food you need to avoid. If you can, speak to the chef. If the staff don't seem sure that the dish is free from that food, it's better to order something else.
  • If you have a nut or seed allergy, ask what oils have been used in salad dressings and if there are any nuts or seeds in the garnishes.

Watch out for 'hidden' ingredients

  • Be aware of foods that contain the food you are sensitive to, for example almonds in marzipan, peanuts in satay sauce, wheat flour in sauces, oyster sauce in Chinese food, fish sauce in Thai dishes, milk in some crisps or sesame seeds in houmous.
  • If you are allergic to nuts or peanuts, be especially careful when choosing a dessert, because nuts are often used in cakes, trifles etc, for example as a decoration on top, or in the base, and they might not be included in the name or description of the dessert.

Be prepared

  • If you have a food allergy, always take your medication with you. If at any time during the meal you think that you may be having a reaction, stop eating and take your medication. If you think you are having a severe reaction, ask your friends, family or the restaurant staff to call for an ambulance with a paramedic.
If you have an allergy to nuts, seeds or peanuts, you should be very careful with Malaysian, Thai, Chinese and Indian dishes, because these commonly contain nuts or peanuts, or are cooked in oils made from nuts, seeds or groundnuts (another name for peanuts). Many vegetarian dishes also contain nuts.

Remember that nuts could be ground up, which means you might not be able to see them. For example, ground almonds or peanut flour can be used to thicken sauces in Indian food and the chef may not think of this as nuts or peanuts when you ask about the content of the meal.

If you can't be confident that dishes are free from nuts, seeds and peanuts (and not cooked in nut, groundnut or sesame oil) it's safer to avoid eating meals or takeaways from these types of restaurant.

Remember, meals are not always made the same way, so if you have eaten a particular dish in one restaurant, don't assume it will be OK the next time or in a different restaurant.

Self-service areas

Some restaurants and cafés have self-service areas where food is in open containers. Even though some dishes might not contain the food you are sensitive to, it's easy for a small amount to get into a dish accidentally, either because containers are next to each other, or because people use the same spoons for different dishes. If you have a severe food allergy it's safer to avoid eating food from this kind of self-service area.

Allergy chef cards
Give your waiter a tip – these handy chef cards tell restaurant staff, which foods you are allergic to.


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