Over 11 million Americans report having food allergies, and it is believed that 1/3 of the population experiences some type of food sensitivities. The most common life threatening food allergies involve shellfish, nuts, berries and eggs, but the list of offending ingredients is long and varied. Children are most susceptible with 6 to 8% of young children being diagnosed with food allergies.
Thankfully many allergic sensitivities in children diminish or disappear completely as they grow older. As we age however, new food sensitivities and restrictions can create new challenges. Intolerances to lactose, gluten and wheat are widespread, and a growing number of people are on restricted diets including salt, sugar, sulfates, MSG, etc.
Whether old or young, traveling to new places for those with food allergies often presents significant problems. Advanced planning is crucial for staying safe and well while traveling. Here are some quick tips to follow to help make your next journey safe from adverse food reactions.
1) Remember that even though you may be on vacation and feeling adventurous and daring, food allergies take no vacations. Err on the side of caution and just say no to those juicy farm-fresh strawberries your guide is enthusiastically recommending you take just a taste of.
2) Pack carefully well in advance of your trip. This should include an injectable medication if it’s been recommended by your physician as well as anti-inflammatory salves and an antihistamine like Benedryl. Always pack some emergency food that you can carry in your pocketbook or day pack,in case you find yourself in a circumstance where you can’t identify a safe food to eat.
3) Do not rely on the airlines to have a dietary meal for you (even though you may have ordered one – it may never materialize. Bring some snacks on board that you know will be safe for you to eat. Wipe down the tray table and seat arms with an alcohol towelette, just in case the passenger before you was snacking on a food that you are allergic to (peanuts for instance).
4) Do an online map search of the area you will be visiting in advance to identify local health food stores. Not only will they be a great source of food choices, but they will most likely be able to direct you to some restaurants that take ingredients seriously as well. Also do not forget about the health food sections of local supermarkets.
5) Avoid all buffet meals. While you may be able to verify the ingredients of a particular dish, you cannot guarantee that another diner has not swapped serving utensils with a different dish containing ingredients you are allergic to.
6) Choose an all-suites hotel or rent a condo when possible where you can prepare some or all of your meals. Or if you must stay in a hotel, specify in advance that a refrigerator and microwave are a medical necessity for you, and ask for them to be provided in your room. They may not be able to accommodate you, but it is worth requesting them.
If you are heading off to a foreign country, the concern gets even greater. You know just how difficult it is to feel confident that the meal you are ordering will be free of foods that make you ill, now imagine being in a foreign country with a language barrier – the prospect of dining out gets down right frightening!
Luckily several companies are available to assist you with this dilemma.
7) Order an Allergy Translation Card to take with you. Selectwisely.com, AllergyTranslation.com and DietaryCard.com all produce laminated travel translation cards that warn of your food allergies in several languages. Or you can have a card customized to express your particular situation. When dining out, you simply pass the card to your waiter and ask him to bring it to the chef. If the chef is conscientious, he will come to your table to discuss what dishes are safe for you to order. Insist that the waiter take the card to the chef, not just read it himself. These laminated cards can be mailed to you, or in some cases can be downloaded to your desktop and laminated later by you. For those with food allergies or dietary restrictions, this is truly the card you should never leave home without!
With a bit of advance planning you’ll be able to eat with confidence wherever your travels bring you and your family.