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Allergies and Restaurants

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Okay, here's one thats sure to get a few tongues wagging...

I have a deadly peanut allergy, yet I persist in going to restaurants. Yes, I know how much this can rile people who do or have worked in the industry, because I have as well. I understand how one's blood can boil when given a laundry list of special instructions. But I have never refused these requests unless I think it a matter of safety, in which case I try to figure out a solution.

What gets me angry is the restauranteurs (you know who you are) who add notes like "We will not be responsible for food allergies" on their menus. Yes, I get it, you don't want a lawsuit. I'm not expecting you to babysit me. I only tell my server about the peanuts so the kitchen can warn me against items that are too risky, and take a few reasonable precautions. Like not using the dirty pad thai tongs on my Alfredo( Which is something they should be aware of anyway, because dirty utensils are just plain gross). Do your best not to kill me, and nobody gets sued. I'm only asking for common sense.

The majority of restaurants are actually quite accommodating, even happy to do so. Those are the places I'll keep going back to, and direct others to do the same. Others are wonderfully honest about their limitations, and garner my respect, if not immediate business. But you can bet I'll tell my friends how nice they were. Repeat clientele and good reviews by word-of-mouth are far more effective than all the advertising money can buy. Arrogant disclaimers are a review killer.

And as for the old 'well, you should just eat at home' argument, do you really think I should go and live in a plastic bubble? Would you want to live your life confined to your home? Would you have the guts to tell me I don't belong in your establishment if I was blind, instead of allergic?

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  1. I will also die if I consume peanuts or most other nuts. I try to avoid restaurants where I don't speak the language of the people serving me, or places where the food inevitably consists of nuts (for example, I don't eat thai unless I make it at home). Chinese, for instance, I am fairly cautious with, and only dine with people who speak the native language and have confirmed with owners ahead of time.

    Most restaurants are accommodating, but the less money you spend, the more you tend to get, "We can't guarantee..." which, to me, is not only a legal cop-out (which doesn't really work; if you die at a restaurant because of a food allergy, the waitress telling you that they can't guarantee it is not a waiver for liability), but a cop-out as to the cleanliness of the product and the kitchen. The same goes for the rash of "may contain traces of..." products that have popped up over the last 10 or so years. If you can't say that your factory lines are clean of the last product you made, how can I be assured that they aren't also full of whatever else was in the last product, or dirt, or worse.

    "Can't guarantee" means that I, and the rest of my table, will probably leave. I've had some slip ups at restaurants (serving a biscotti filled with almonds at the end of the meal with an espresso), but these are easily avoided.

    The only really bad time I've had so far was a recently opened restaurant with an obviously clueless waitress. I have never reviewed it on Chowhound because my review would likely be improperly negative because of it. I told them of the allergy on reservation, told the waitress upon arrival, and half way through the meal she told me that the food I ate might have peanuts in it. I was pretty scared that I was going to die, but I know the time limit associated with it, so we kind of waited for a bodily response rather than jab myself with the epipen right away and call 911. We waited, and nothing, but it completely ruined both my meal and that of my companions (and, needless to say, we will not be going there again, nor will anyone I talk to about it).

    In Japan, or China, people don't seem to believe in food allergies. Thankfully, in Japan at least, nuts aren't really a common ingredient, and any restaurant likely to serve them (other than, say, pastry shops) are probably able to substitute something else. I've had no problems there as well.

    I've had people say, "Well, if you can't risk it, don't eat out," but that doesn't really make sense to me. I don't eat at places where the menu is obviously hazardous regarding nuts. I also won't eat at places that can't guarantee their food to be nut-free (and I ask at reservation). Even products you consume at home which are "nut-free" might have nuts in them (take, for instance, Cadbury Mini-Eggs featuring hazelnuts not noted on the label and later recalled, to all the good it might have done for someone eating the product), so what should I do, eat nothing except foods that I grow myself on my balcony?

    Thankfully, I haven't died yet, and hopefully I won't. Hopefully you won't either.

    1. I was at a restaurant where they take allergyes very seriousely.. The client told the waiter ahe was allergic to nuts, the waiter told the food expiditer, the expiditer told the kitchen, the kitchen cooked a version of the dish without nuts, (someone else at the table was having the same dish with nuts) .. the kitchen told the food expiditer which dish was which... the expiditer gave the dishes to teh food runner, the food runner made a mistake and placed the wrong dish in front of the wrong person.. it happens millions of times in restaurants but this time because it was the same dish no one noticed and immeditely after one bite the lady had a reaction.. luckily she just had put the fork to her tongue and did not have a full reaction but she had too leave..

      Is the restaurant at fault? legally probably yes if the lady had died they would probably been sued but they did everything they could (except replacing the food runners with robots :-) it was a mistake the runner felt horrible but it was probably the 100th dish he ran that day and no single person is perfect. The same could happen in the kitchen if a busboy cut his peanut butter sandwhich and did not scrub the penut oil from the cutting board or if while grabbing something a loose nut gets knocked into a pot on the stove.. kitchens are hectic places and have hundreds of ingredients. It can be the cleanest "Ramsey" kitchen and mistakes are still made (or you would never get a bad meal!). For every dish that goes out under seasoned or over cooked or cold there is probably another where it has contacted something that could cause an allergic reaction in someone...

      But all reputable places will try their hardest to comply to allergy requests (and religious restrictions) without putting a disclaimer on the menu. I am assming the disclaimers are in places where either they are a chain and have too many lawyers on their backs or are places that have had issues in the past.

      Find places that accomadate you , reward them with your patronage but still becarefull with each bite..

      1 Reply
      1. re: OnDaGo

        That was all very well-put, OnDaGo!

      2. I do empathize with you; if you have had an anaphylactic reaction to peanuts, your feelings of frustration and fear are justified.

        Having said that ( and noting I am neither an attorney nor a food industry employee), the reality, IMO, is that you DO take more of a risk eating in a restaurant than you do at home. Only you can determine the risk you are willing to take. It is probably lower in a high end or owner/chef operated restaurant; but the risk is never zero.

        As far as "living in a bubble" or judging it takes "guts" to tell you that [you] "don't belong in [my] establishment;" I can see where this is also borne of your frustration, as is the gratuitous blind person analogy. Nonetheless, a serious peanut allergy is a type of disability and although a restaurant should take your problem seriously; the most honest answer is that it can't make your risk zero. It can do its best, but the ultimate responsibility is yours, not the restaurants. And it might take guts to say it.

        2 Replies
        1. re: Sinicle

          i get the feeling of people pissed off at me if i tell them i have an allergy to a certain food a restaurant may serve. anyone else run into this problem?

          1. re: Sinicle

            "although a restaurant should take your problem seriously; the most honest answer is that it can't make your risk zero. It can do its best, but the ultimate responsibility is yours, not the restaurants."

            I am glad you wrote that, that perfectly sums up how I felt when I was working in restaurants.

            I was very aware of the seriousness of allergies. But honestly, sometimes I felt like "one false move and someone dies!" was an awful lot of pressure to be under while making lunch. I can wash my hands, clean my area, check all my ingredients, and still be worried that a crumb from something I prepped earlier in the day is stuck to my clothes.

            I worked for awhile in a corporate setting where one of our regular customers was deathly allergic to peanuts. We made sure to let her know when we were making a peanut dish as an entree, in case she wanted to avoid the dining room all together that day. But since we had peanuts in the kitchen there was no way to be 100% sure that anything we made was posivitely peanut-free. It's not a matter of being clueless in the kitchen as how much can we do, short of turning the kitchen into a clean room?

          2. Having been in your position with regard to big-time, major food allergies, I can empathize. (I'm no longer allergic to any foods. Ta-DAH!) It was truly frightening to sit down in a, say, Chinese dim-sum place and try to explain that I simply could not eat any dish that had shrimp in it. "No, no shrimp - pork dumplings," I'd be assured. Still, I made my husband take the first bite and, sure enough, those tiny, dried shrimps would be in amongst the fillings. I finally realized that they aren't really considered shrimp, but are more like a seasoning or condiment - completely different from shrimp dumplings. So we stopped going to those kinds of restaurants.

            Even places with the best of intentions occasionally screwed things up. Years ago, we became sort-of regulars at a small country inn in Ludlow, VT. The chef-owner knew what my allergies were and always made sure to substitute something for me when others were having something that I couldn't. But she didn't make breakfast - her husband did. One morning, as I was just raising a spoonful of hot cereal to my lips, I heard her scream my name as she burst from the kitchen, "Don't eat that!" He'd put cinnamon (big on my list) in the hot cereal and forgot to make a small batch without.

            Other times, despite everyone's best efforts, mistakes happen. We were at the same inn with another couple - one of whom had that very same deadly nut allergy that afflicts you. Nuts, fortunately, were not a problem for me. So dinner came and the main course was cornish hen with chestnut stuffing. The kitchen had made a separate one for my allergic friend, which was lovely for her, so she didn't have to feel left out, eating a hunk of chicken breast. She obviously couldn't taste ours, but offered around tastes of hers, which she was raving about. Naturally, I took a taste and, within moments, my eyes and palms began to itch, I broke out in hives, and my throat started to swell. My husband ran upstairs and got me some benadryl. Eventually, the symptoms eased, but I ended up half-asleep at the table (I'd been drinking wine up to that point - great cocktail: Bordeaux & Benadryl...) Turns out that our friend's cornish hen had oysters in the stuffing. Oops.

            So I agree that, while you can ask all the questions in the world, and get every assurance from management, staff and kitchen, things happen and it's a scary world out there. No plastic bubble though - I just had to learn to assert myself and then cross my fingers. Nobody ever had the nerve to say to me that I shouldn't eat out.

            By the way, chef Marcus Samuelson had a severe allergic reaction to something when he was a child. His staff has been fully educated as to the lurking dangers and trained to ask questions of diners and to accommodate them - no attitude included.

            14 Replies
            1. re: Deenso

              Deenso, not to hijack this thread but how did you rid yourself of your shellfish allergy? I developed my shellfish allergy only a few years back and I would try anything (well almost anything) to be able to eat shrimp, crab, and lobster again.

              TIA

              1. re: KTinNYC

                It's not a recommended method, KT: I had 6 months of chemo for lymphoma. That stuff killed pretty much everything in my system so, after my treatment was completed (successfully!), I asked my doctor to do a test for the few foods that I had had to avoid for 25 years. Lo and behold! the tests were all negative. I must have eaten shrimp and salmon five times in the next week. And my very first cinnabon! Which, I must say, was pretty nasty. Stuck to cinnamon raisin swirl toast after that...

                Anyway, you probably don't want to go there. ;-)

                1. re: Deenso

                  Talk about a silver lining! I hope you are all better now and have a shrimp for me.

                  1. re: Deenso

                    Is this a common event? I know chemo can change tastes, but I've never heard of changing allergies.

                    1. re: TampaAurora

                      My gen'l practitioner was surprised when my allergy tests came back negative and so was my oncologist, so I'm guessing it's not a common event. I can't imagine, though, that I'm the only person to have considered the possibilities. I've been in remission for 18 months now, and my allergies haven't returned.

                      It's possible that, since they came on fairly abruptly when I was in my mid-30s, they might have simply disappeared the same way and it was jus,t coincidentally, during the time I was in chemo. Whatever the reason, I'm just thrilled not have to question anybody at a restaurant anymore and to be able to eat everything they put in front of me without a worry!

                      1. re: Deenso

                        I haven't heard of a case before you but it is theoretically possible as chemo destroys your immune system. An allergic response happens when your body mistakenly recognizes the food allergen (whether it's peanuts, wheat, eggs, etc.) to be harmful and unleashes an immune response to attack it.

                        Well, I'm definitely glad to hear that you made it through your chemo and you're able to eat cinnamon and shrimp now!

                        1. re: Deenso

                          Oh, now I must get tested again for my shellfish allergy. Wouldn't that be a silver-lining to those 6 months I gave to my hospital? Or, maybe I will try a few clams off of my husband's plate with an epi pen nearby.

                          1. re: smtucker

                            I'd recommend the blood test, rather than the "maybe I'll just try one of these" test. But, however you decide to do it, please do report back!

                    2. re: KTinNYC

                      I always thought one was born with an allergy. Last year I had strange symptoms after consuming cat fish, ever since then almost all river fish make me really sick and now any fish all together. It's so strange and I just want to eat some fish!!

                      1. re: BamiaWruz

                        many people acquire (and sometimes loose) allergies during their lives. not at all uncommon.

                        1. re: KaimukiMan

                          Yep, "grew into" my peanut and tree nut allergy around age 18.

                          1. re: enbell

                            developed nut and venom allergies at 48.

                        2. re: BamiaWruz

                          Developed all my food allergies when I was in my mid-thirties. Go figure.

                          1. re: BamiaWruz

                            Unfortunately, many acquire allergies later in life. My wife grew up eating oysters. In middle-age, suddenly she developed her allergy to any bi-valves, oysters, clams, scallops, etc. Now, she can eat single-shelled mollusks, like abalone and limets, but if there are two shells - she's gonna' have problems. Crabs, shrimp, lobsters, squid are all fine. It's just anything with two-shells.

                            Hunt

                      2. As somebody with a deadly food allergy, I don't have a problem with restaurants that have notes like "We will not be responsible for food allergies." A restaurant can try to accommodate a customer's requests as best as possible but mistakes can happen as in OnDaGo's or Deenso's story. If you're allergic to peanuts, there could have been an ingredient processed in a plant that also manufactures peanuts. Perhaps the restaurant always gets this ingredient from a certain vendor that is guaranteed peanut-free. But let's say the vendor just happened to be out of that ingredient this week and the restaurant had to make a substitution and the waitstaff is unaware of this information. There are countless scenarios that could happen. I take these disclaimers to be similar to those medical disclaimers you've got to sign when you go to a doctor or get a massage.

                        There's always a risk when eating out if you have an allergy. But there are risks in everything -- ie. I could slip in the shower and crack my skull open when taking a shower. You just have to do the best you can doing your research, informing the waitstaff of your allergies, carrying your Epi-Pen, etc.

                        1. I had an odd experience on a flight this week (sorry to be a bit off topic). Pre-boarding, I had purchased a package of wasabi peanuts, as someone who doesn't eat meat ( and who hadn't eaten since breakfast, this was mid-afternoon ), i sometimes carry nuts during travel times.

                          Our flight got delayed by about a half hour or so. Shortly before take off, well after this half hour waiting period, an announcement was made that we had someone on the flight who was severely allergic to nuts, with an announcement that they not only would not be serving anything with nuts (didn't think they did anyway), but a request that no one open any personal packages of nuts on the plane. As I said, this occurred well into seating time on the plane, and while I hadn't opened my packet, I found it very weird, because numerous people could have opened nuts during that half hour or so timeframe. Shouldn't that have been shared by that traveller ahead of time ?

                          As i said, I hadn't opened my package of nuts ( a fellow traveller also had nuts ), nor would I have said to hell with it and opened them, after the warning, not even maybe. And to be honest, I don't really care what an airline restricts as long as they get me where i need to go safely. But I was damn hungry, and this airline just restricted several people's choice of snacks on the flight, and in turn, I had to buy something instead because I was feeling a bit woozy, haven't eaten anything since breakfast, and delayed on the flight. No, I wouldn't have starved in that time frame but i'm glad I had money with me. Just sayin' it woulda been nice for the airline to maybe hand out a few packages of pretzels or something...

                          How does such a thing work on an airline? People had been sitting on the plane at this point for at least a half hour, and this shouldn't have been an "oh, by the way" situation. No one knew if they were sitting next to said person, who's to say fellow travellers hadn't scarfed a few handful of nuts before walking on to the plane?

                          I feel for anyone in this situation, I do. But I also wonder about how anyone SO scared of a reaction to this can rely on sterile conditions in a restaurant, and that the restaurant has also relied on the promise of sterile ingredients supplied to them and so on. As manray put it, the pressure a restaurant is under in this situation must be unreal, I know I wouldn't want to be in it. To dismiss the restaurants as "arrogant" when there are so many variables, is a bit wrong. Like the OP said, restaurants DO have limitations due to many things, costs etc included.

                          Nuts and shellfish are presumably some of the more common food allergies, but what about all the other ones that don't get into the news, but people still have? A nearby workplace with hundreds of shift employees who can not take their lunches in their own home, has one person with an allergy to fish, and none of those several hundred people are allowed to bring fish onto this large property. I often wondered what would happen if someone else went to work there with a nut allergy, and then someone allergic to eggs , or strawberries, the list goes on. Unless a place is decreed to be a TOTALLY food free zone, however would there be no risk ?

                          4 Replies
                          1. re: im_nomad

                            As to the plane experience, as an aunt to a nut-allergic nephew, I can tell you that my sister always does everything you're supposed to do in advance to let the airline know about the nut allergy. She has the appropriate letters, does whatever all you're supposed to do About 75% of the time, the airline just completely drops the ball.

                            But that doesn't help with the personal problem of nuts you might bring on board. I personally don't ever bother to bring nuts or trail mix on board anymore just in case it's a problem for someone else on the plane, there plenty of other snack choices and nuts in particular are such a prevalent and deadly problem (and growing) that I'd just rather make a different choice. I can eat nuts the whole rest of my life when I'm not on the plane, I can do without them for a few hours.

                            1. re: rockandroller1

                              I've never really understood how nut-free flights actually work. If I'm at the tail of the plane, and the person with the allergy is in the first row of coach (for example), how would my peanuts affect them? More importantly though, I guess, is how can you be sure no one on the previous flight had peanuts in the very same seat? Airplanes barely get cleaned between most flights, the seat could be covered in peanut dust. The nut-free flight seems to potentially inconvenience a lot of people without actually reducing risk that much. I guess it all goes back to what others have said about managing risk and crossing fingers, but as a completely food allergy free person (with no friends or family that have food allergies either) it kind of rubs me the wrong way that a flight would be designated peanut free, especially in the manner that nomad experienced.

                              1. re: mpjmph

                                you do have a point about the cleaning of the plane. I know for sure that it wasn't cleaned before we got on there because there was still stuff in the seat pocket in front of me from someone else. I would think in situations where a plane lands and takes off again with new people on board, it doesn't get touched at all, but I would say this flight probably got a rudimentary sweep through for anything obvious and that's it.

                                I recently read a thread on another board where people were discussing the recent move by an airline to no longer allow pets on board or in the cargo of the plane, and they would now have to fly seperatly on a completely passenger free cargo plane. People were talking about allergies on that one too, and at least one person suggested that perhaps there been a flight designated once a month or something that allowed people to travel with pets, and those who did not wish to, could book around it. I doubt this will happen btw.

                                Maybe that's what will happen here, but I doubt it as well. The announcement by the the airline I recently flew on above, is I think simply allowing for the facade of safety in some manner. As said, there's no way to completely be sure that someone hadn't rubbed peanut-butter fingers all over the seat before they deplaned. I guess it would depend on how severe the allergy. This was a massive plane btw, and there could be many variables with so many people on board. I've never heard such an announcement while taking the train with similar numbers, then again, it's easier to get off a train !

                            2. re: im_nomad

                              The no-nuts on the plane thing is pretty simple and often misunderstood: if you were to open a package of peanuts in the back of the plane and somebody with an allergic condition was sitting at the front, there would be very little chance of causing a reaction in that person. The main reason that this has become a problem is that when the drink service goes through the plane and distributes packages of peanuts through the cabin, everybody opens the packages within the same ten-minute timeframe which causes a lot of peanut dust to become airborne and move throughout the cabin. This will cause a reaction in a sensitive person. This is why I am amazed that the airlines still occasionally serve peanuts. Nut allergies pose a threat to those in the immediate environs of the nut-product because the dust is easily aerosolized. Somebody deathly allergic to shellfish can't have this problem since oysters and crab etcetera aren't readily airborne. Unless they've been turned into shrimp-chips, or something.

                            3. DH is deathly allergic to shellfish and seafood... it's not something that he announces in the restaurant, but we just plain don't eat at seafood restaurants or Asian restaurants because the risk of cross-contamination is too high. We tried it twice, telling them that he couldn't have seafood, and they messed up both times but we caught it before he ate the food in question. We're not willing to risk it again, so we BOTH gave up the risky cuisine. The biggest problem he's had with it is that fried food from some restaurants makes him ill afterwards, we assume because they are frying seafood appetisers in the same oil as his onion rings or french fries... he's fortunate that that kind of secondary exposure doesn't have a life-threatening affect on him, just an uncomfortable one. I know that it could kill some people!

                              3 Replies
                              1. re: Kajikit

                                I'm also have a number of food allergies, some crisis-invoking (certain types of shellfish, but, thank g-d, not shrimp) and some, merely big nuisances (three months on anti-histimines after I couldn't stop myself from gorging on Skippy, to which I never had an allergic reaction before. *rolls eyes at her own peanut pigginess*. Obviously, as you'll understand from your husband's situation, going to a seafood restaurant isn't exactly my idea of Loads of Fun, so I don't go, when I can help it. But I can't always get out of going to a seafood restaurant--for example, if hubby gets an important business invitation. And, living in coastal New England, my nemesis--seafood--surrounds me and marks most happy occasions in life, as well as daily sustenance, for most people.

                                So, I'm not shy at *all* about announcing my problem, though I *do* try very hard to be discreet about it and tell only those who need to know. I don't like to make a big deal of it at parties, but I have a really sweet husband and a sweet best friend who both look after me. They quietly taste-test courses before giving me the all-clear, or pull the host/hostess aside privately to ask if they can't identify something. I can eat fin fish, and sometimes do, but...I *need* to know if there's clam juice in the stock of a fish stew. I *need* to know that the Chef won't use the same implements to turn the scallops. I always ask the guys at the fish market to get my halibut or scrod out of the refrigerator, because that big, old pile of mussels next to the white fish might look bountiful, but it's going to kill me. And I always ask them sweetly if they don't mind washing their hands and changing their gloves before they serve me, and they always oblige graciously.

                                I came thisclose to checking out once, from accidental oyster exposure, so I don't mess around with around it and I hope your DH won't, either. I think you're right that some establishments are frying clams in the same vat as fries, though many have become sensitive to the problems that causes, and have stopped. I *really* love fish and chips, but I no longer get them anymore at any place that also serves fried shellfish. You know that the severity of allergic reactions can progress, right? That happened to me with lobsters. Don't chance it.

                                1. re: Kajikit

                                  My SO is allergic to all seafood too, except tuna (deep sea fish?) Which in itself is odd. He used to handle freshly caught fish, no problem, but he can not touch or eat fish, and doesn't go too close to a fish market.
                                  This is a very difficult allergy I have to say. The oil is always a problem, but recently he's consumed tempura mushrooms and such at a japanese place which also prepared seafood tempura and the oil was fine.

                                  When we're in a country where we don't speak the language it's difficult to communicate with waiters to make sure they understand. It's always scary and risky.

                                  1. re: BamiaWruz

                                    You need to prepare in advance when you travel.

                                    Make up a business card printed with your allergy information in the appropriate language so you can give it out even if you cannot pronounce the words. A language forum like www.wordreference.com can be very helpful for formulating the phrasing.

                                2. You can look at food allergies in the same way as other special dietary restrictions like eating vegan, Kosher or Halal, but with the added consequence of possible death if the diet isn't adhered to.

                                  Now, if I require a vegan meal or a Kosher meal, I will go to a restaurant and see if they can accommodate me. Some can, some can't. If they can't, I don't care if they say, "Sorry food not Kosher," "Food may contain pork" or "We can't be responsible if meat and dairy mix." Either way they get the point across.

                                  As others have pointed out, it's difficult to guarantee an entire, for example, peanut-free meal. Packaged food may be peanut-free but come from a plant that processes foods with peanuts. There may be residue of peanut dust in the air.

                                  I think the only cause for complaint would be a restaurant that guarantees a peanut-free environment (or dairy-free, meatless, etc.) and then serves up a "contaminated" dish. That's probably why so many places have a hard time with the guarantee.

                                  By the way, Ming Tsai's restaurant Blue Ginger in the Boston suburbs is a model in catering to customers with food allergies. I recommend it.

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: taos

                                    You know, I think it was Ming Tsai I was thinking of in my earlier post, when I mistakenly mentioned Marcus Samuelson as being so accommodating to allergies. Big oops!

                                  2. When one has a deadly allergy, one must either totally avoid the posibility of eating the cause or accept the risk. And yes you may understand the potential lawsuit issue, but many others do not and feel that telling a server inthe restaurant amount to complete transferrence of all risk and responsibility. But here is the comment that you are in a very small minority..."Do your best not to kill me, and nobody gets sued. I'm only asking for common sense." Many are looking for complete and total compliance.

                                    Jfood has a nut allergy (thankfully not deadly) and mentions it all the time. Many desserts have arrived at the table prepared nutless and then the final decoration is chopped pistachios...hello. When you mention this to the server it is usually a "just eat around them", or "they are not in the dish" (jfood's favorite" or "I'm sorry."

                                    One must never let your guard down, assume that everyone has the same diligence or that a mere mention to a server who might have 6 other tables is 100% focussed on you.

                                    1. I feel for you. I am allergic to strawberries. Sound like it would be easy to avoid, right? Not so much. My big problem is with desserts (which I love). SO many times the garnish is a strawberry or they use the same knife to cut different garnishes (slice the strawberry, then slice the melon) which is enough to make my throat begin to close. It's sometimes hard for (even) me to remember when I order a dessert that sounds "safe" like "double chocolate cake with vanilla ice cream" and it comes with a strawberry on top or the sauce along the outside of the plate is strawberry. Usually it is easy to see, but like I said, I am sensitive enough that even using the same knife will affect me (maybe not kill me, but make it hard to breathe).

                                      1 Reply
                                      1. re: L_W

                                        Me too, and yes!!! I've waved many slices of cheesecake buh-bye due to a garnish of strawberry. I figure that if there's a strawberry on anything, I'm SOL safety-wise. It's all cross contaminated.

                                        I've found it was much easier to avoid strawberries than it is to avoid gluten, though. I'm having a really hard time getting restaurants to understand cross contamination with gluten.

                                      2. A good rule of thumb for the allergic is this--The more a restaurant relies on Sysco, the less you can rely on the restaurant. When most of the food comes frozen from suppliers like Sysco, the staff won't know which allergen extras are in the fries, the soups, the breadings, the sauces, the salad dressings, etc, etc.

                                        Even a good restaurant can have its lapses as some posters have found and therein lies the dangerous break. In far too many restaurants the FOH and the BOH are separate planets in separate orbits with their own bodies of knowledge and their own priorities. Your allergy can easily fall into a culinary black hole between those two worlds. Your cook will know what went into your entree but your server will not--and how could they?

                                        1 Reply
                                        1. re: RI Swampyankee

                                          how is the patron or server supposed to know which products come from which distributor? often times, a cook cannot be sure unless he or she did the receiving for that exact product.

                                        2. As a busy working mother of an egg allergic child, the whole 'you should eat at home' argument infuriates me. I also think its great when people tell me its a pain in the a**. Yes, I know it is. Thanks for the update!

                                          If you pre-plan your meals out to the best of your ability, advocate for your allergy in advance and ideally during off peak hours, do so respectfully, promise to tip well, and use common sense (i.e. pizza at 6pm on a Thursday at a local pizza place you confirmed ahead of time doesn't use egg in the dough vs. grilled cheese at 10am on a Sunday during a business brunch rush at a local diner when you oops forgot to ask about the bread), most places should be able to accomodate you.

                                          Maybe you will need to make some compromises (i.e. we avoid breakfast and Asian food out and have had to order a simple grilled chicken breast with steamed spinach one more than one occasion), but I find it hard to believe a pre-warned kitchen cannot figure out something.

                                          2 Replies
                                          1. re: evapop

                                            I think you make a great point about pre-warning. If a restaurant is really enthusiastic about the particular ingredient and you just walk in expecting to be accommodated, it may be difficult for the restaurant. If you call ahead and mention the allergy, the restaurant can tell you whether it can safely accommodate you. In some cases, it's not going to happen because the restaurant relies so much on a particular ingredient.

                                            1. re: queencru

                                              That is where it becomes a two way street. I don't expect the West Egg Cafe here in Atlanta to be a 'safe' restauarent (though ... sigh ... that would be nice). However, I do expect the local Max and Erma's, which doesn't serve breakfast, has a diverse menu, and labels on everything, to accomodate his allergy when pre-warned and asked about specific dishes (egg as a hamburger binger for instance). BTW - they do and are always wonderful about my son's allergy. :-)

                                          2. "Arrogant disclaimers are a review killer."

                                            you know, there are warnings on the labels of candy bars and cereal now, because nuts may be in the same building as the nut-free candy. it's not arrogance, it's protection against the litigious society in which we now live.

                                            "I'm only asking for common sense."

                                            i have experienced, more than once, patrons and even parents ordering for their children, NOT warning servers about food allergies until the dish is in front of them, garnished with peanuts, or whatever potential death ingredient that person *forgot* would kill them.

                                            common sense cuts both ways, and we all know the phrase is an oxymoron.

                                            2 Replies
                                            1. re: hotoynoodle

                                              The warnings on the labels of packaged foods are necessary because the foods are not prepared individually for a specific customer. It's information that can't be imparted any other way.

                                              1. re: jlafler

                                                much food in restaurants is not prepared for an specific customer either. the restaurant may not know that the vegetable oil used in a specific sauce may have been processed in a location that also processes peanut oil. and if you think that the restaurant is using all home made sauces, you are probably deceiving yourself.

                                            2. Allergies are a you problem; not a restaurant problem.

                                              7 Replies
                                              1. re: ipsedixit

                                                Only if you assume that a restaurant doesn't care if its patrons live or die.

                                                1. re: jlafler

                                                  No, I'm assuming that only the patron SHOULD care whether she lives or dies.

                                                  For example, if I have celiac disease I certainly don't expect a restaurant to break out its stash of gluten-free breads.

                                                  1. re: ipsedixit

                                                    Of course not. But would you expect a restaurant to give you accurate information about what is in the food? Would you go back to a restaurant that was unwilling to give you accurate information or to accommodate your needs? The OP is talking about a very consumer-oriented approach: what makes her, as a person with allergies, favor one restaurant over another. Is there something wrong with her making decisions -- where to eat, and whose business to recommend -- based on how well they deal with her requests?

                                                    1. re: jlafler

                                                      No, of course not. There is nothing wrong with the OP making her decision based on what or how a restaurant discloses its info.

                                                      But, the OP has no right to EXPECT a restaurant to be accommodating.

                                                      A peanut allergy is not like a disability. The law requires a restaurant to make reasonable accommodations for the handicapped. No such law requires the same for people with allergies.

                                                      Forcing a restaurant to accommodate, no matter how slight, those with allergies -- either by listing the ingredients, swapping ingredients, or taking extra precautions with serving utensils -- increase the cost for the rest of us who do no have such allergies. That's not something I want to pay for.

                                                      1. re: ipsedixit

                                                        Brilliant. I could not agree more. And I have a deadly peanut and tree nut allergy myself. Very well put.

                                                        1. re: ipsedixit

                                                          Actually, the Americans with Disabilities Act *does* include food allergies as a disability for which reasonable accomodations should be made.

                                                          1. re: MaureenN

                                                            I think you're arguing with someone who isn't in the room. The OP wasn't talking about forcing anybody to do anything, just about what makes her, as a consumer with allergies, favor one restaurant over another.

                                                2. Wife suffers from some food allergies, but not life-threatening ones. When ordering from the menu, we just ask, and explain (not in medically explicit terms, or with a "show and tell" chart), and have never had a problem.

                                                  Chef's tasting menus can be a bit of a problem, so I always explain this, when making reservations. Later, I'll either FAX, or e-mail, just to make sure the kitchen has some indeas of how to get around her problem. So far, nothing but great responses from these kitchens.

                                                  As to the disclaimers, our litigious society has led to this. "Coffee is hot. If you pour into your lap, you might receive burns... " Soon, one will be forced to sign a notarized waiver, before even entering a restaurant. Don't even think about ordering any food, as that will take an appearance from your personal attorney, with a court reporter.

                                                  Glad that I can eat pretty much whatever I like and want. In the case of my wife, it's only an extra step, or two, but well worth it just for her company. Heck, most of the sommeliers even make allowances for her changes in the chef's tasting, when offered with the wine pariing. None seem to have minded, so long as we do not "surprise" them at the table.

                                                  As for the peanut allergy, well, you might be highly topical right now. While I do not suffer from any, things seem to be amiss in "Peanutville." Wonder if President Jimmy Carter had anything to do with this...

                                                  Hunt

                                                  1. Tangentially related: A few months ago on another board, a person described making a cake for a school bake sale. Her cat licked all the frosting off the night before, so she simply re-iced it and took it to the bake sale. She presented it as an I'm-so-funny story, look what I did to those obnoxious PTA moms.

                                                    I was horrified. First, because that's disgusting. Second, because I'm deathly allergic to cats, and having a piece of cat-saliva-enhanced cake would be incredibly serious. If I have a food allergy, I can at least ask and be vigilant about knowing what's in the food I'm eating. There's always some risk involved, as others in this thread have described. But I wouldn't even think to ask if a piece of carrot cake had been slathered in cat saliva!

                                                    I was universally slammed on the thread, told to go live in a bubble, etc.

                                                    I don't expect perfection from anyone, and I take precautions. I don't order the fresh fruit, because it invariably involves inexpensive melon, for example, and I have an allergy to honeydew and cantaloupe. But arrogance on the part of a restaurant or a server who decides that my allergy isn't real is unacceptable. Arrogance on the part of people who tell me to go live in a bubble (better not be latex ;-) ) is disgusting. I don't impose restrictions on other people (go ahead and have a cat, but don't expect me to hug you!) , and expect that they won't be forced on me. It's my responsibility to manage my allergies; have enough respect to give me the tools to do it.

                                                    15 Replies
                                                    1. re: modthyrth

                                                      That's just plain disgusting. I'd hate to think of my (as yet hypothetical) kids eating a piece of that cake.

                                                      1. re: modthyrth

                                                        I totally agree with you. I can't see how having allergies and being vigilant about them means you should live in a bubble. Allergies or not, I do not want to eat something licked all over by a cat, dog, person, or anything at all really.

                                                        Luckily my animal allergies are pretty minimal, but I had one friend who knew about the allergy, would freak out about it for 2 minutes, and then when I told him I'd be fine, he'd always try to get us to become BFFs and cuddle (the cats and I). I think some people just don't get it.

                                                        1. re: modthyrth

                                                          cake-licking aside......problem is, someone who thinks something kitty does like that is ever so cute and funny, is probably not going to be too careful about letting said kitty walk all over the kitchen counters, so even if the cake didn't get licked, i'd hazard a guess that there were some kitty markers in there from the kitchen alone. Bake sales, or even eating other people's baking at work and stuff.....is kind of a gamble, no matter what, there really are no standards whatsoever. We probably wouldn't want to know what goes on in many people's kitchens.

                                                          I gotta say though, that is mighty gross, allergies or no allergies, and i'm no pro-sterile environment kinda person. Who does something like that? Who even leaves a cake out on the counter uncovered for a cat to lick? If there is any kind of baking karma, she bought herself some cookies that had been dropped in the dog run or something on their way to the sale. Someone's kid probably ate that cake, as obnoxious PTA moms do, ya know, have kids.

                                                          As a baker who has also sold my cakes, I find that appalling. I love my dog, but she gets shooed from the kitchen, everything is wiped down, I tie up my hair, and wear clean clothes that I have not cuddled the dog in. I'd be horrified if anyone I gave a cake to even said they found a hair, never mind having had her lick something.

                                                          What's sad about that is probably that she also had a good laugh about this at home, and possibly in front of her child.

                                                          1. re: im_nomad

                                                            Fair point about bake sales and their inhering dangers. I live in a magical house (reference to thread some time ago) and will happily flaunt safety standards if it's something only I am going to eat. Having a mom who has been both a microbiologist and a professional pastry chef lets me have a good idea just how far I can push it. ;-) But when I make something for other people, I'm incredibly careful and have rigorous food safety standards.

                                                            On that other thread, there was only *one* person who agreed with me, and perhaps 50 or 75 who thought the original poster was just hysterically funny. That's what really scares me.

                                                            1. re: modthyrth

                                                              "On that other thread, there was only *one* person who agreed with me, and perhaps 50 or 75 who thought the original poster was just hysterically funny. That's what really scares me."

                                                              Those 50 or 75 deserve to be flogged ! I bet none of them have allergies.

                                                              I developed an allergy to beef a few years ago, much to my dismay as I really love beef; but I am not allergic to veal. I ordered veal sweetbreads at a restaurant and asked if there was beef stock in the sauce; I told the waiter I was allergic to beef. He returned from the kitchen, saying that there was beef stock in the sauce, but they could give me another sauce, so I went for it. When he served the dish he told me that they put the sauce on the side. Guess what? The morons in the kitchen just took the beef stock-based sauce and put it on the side. I reacted (hives), but fortunately it was not life-threatening.

                                                              1. re: modthyrth

                                                                Unfortunately, this is a very common situation on Chowhound, and one reason I rarely read or post to the "not about food" board. I'm not sure why so many people's knee-jerk reaction to mention of an allergy or any other food restriction is annoyance, scorn, and disbelief. I really don't understand it.

                                                            2. re: modthyrth

                                                              I love animals, and that is just nasty.

                                                              1. re: modthyrth

                                                                That's just gross! We have three cats and while my cooking efforts are often feline-supervised and our apartment is not a super-sterile environment, the cats do not directly participate in my cooking efforts. Cats are not supposed to set paw on top of the kitchen counter in peril of being sprayed with water. Of course they do anyway because you really can't stop a cat from doing ANYTHING when you're not looking! But I wouldn't leave food sitting out there in the open to tempt them. I'm sure that if I left a nice frosted cake sitting out in the open overnight it would have plenty of cat saliva on it by morning, so that's something that I just wouldn't do... an iced cake belongs in the fridge anyway, and other food is sealed away under plastic to keep it safe from prying paws.

                                                                1. re: modthyrth

                                                                  I hope that whoever did that realizes that they acted in an immature, arrogant and even potentially dangerous manner. Unfortunately we live in a world where not everyone understands the concepts of common sense, common courtesy and proper sanitation. Thankfully though, the majority of the people I interact with do- and I've found that most of the people on CH do as well. If you have severe allergies, always have an Epi-Pen with you. You can't live in a bubble, nor should you!

                                                                  1. re: modthyrth

                                                                    That's not right at all, if she let something like that slide and thought it was funny I have to question her cleaning!! I try not to be paranoid and have the best opinion of people and their food but I've been fortunate enough to actually see how a lot of people cook in their kitchens, and the sanitary conditions of their kitchens and it really opened my mind because they've been really really bad.

                                                                    I try to eat in my own home as much as I can, and only eat from those I trust, unfortunately a lot of closer family members aren't even on the trust list. A lot restaurants are pretty bad too, I often wonder why they're still open.

                                                                    1. re: modthyrth

                                                                      People like that are the reason many schools now have a no home made goods rule.

                                                                      1. re: modthyrth

                                                                        Our senior cat is (briefly) allowed on the small counter between fridge and stove in order to get to his favorite daytime napping place atop the kitchen cabinets over the fridge. A while back, I heard a 'rattle-rattle-rattle' sound coming from the kitchen and caught him licking the tops of a pan of cooling corn muffins.

                                                                        Was it funny? Definitely, especially when he tried to pull the classic feline 'Who me? I didn't do anything wrong.' routine despite the clear visual evidence that cat tongue had been applied to muffins.

                                                                        And then when I finally stopped laughing, I promptly tossed the muffins in the trash can. And all future baked goods are now moved to the big butcherblock cutting board to cool after getting pulled from the oven. It's right next to the sink, and senior cat goes nowhere near that Scary Place.

                                                                        1. re: beachmouse

                                                                          i have a cat. i know he walks on the counter when i'm not home because i can see his little paw prints on my black stovetop, lol. but there is zero tolerance otherwise and he follows house policy. i also tie back my hair and put on clean clothes whenever i'm cooking for others.

                                                                          could the cupcake lady have been bluffing? it's just too gross.

                                                                          1. re: hotoynoodle

                                                                            I suppose there's a chance she was bluffing--you never know online--but I didn't get that vibe. But the dozens of other people who all found her version of the story delightful? That's disturbing, even if the original post was from a troll. This was on a pregnancy message board, by the way--all these scary people are breeding. ;-)

                                                                            1. re: modthyrth

                                                                              The fact that it was on a pregnancy message board makes it even more disturbing...

                                                                      2. I have Celiac Disease, and avoid all wheat and gluten because of that. Most restaurants are more than happy to accommodate me, even if it means I can only have one thing on their menu. I've found that most places are great about answering questions, telling me what I can and can't have, etc. Generally, I don't call ahead unless I'm really unsure I might not be able to eat there, but if I'm making a reservation or calling with another question anyway, I will always ask or have my intolerances noted with the reservation.

                                                                        Yesterday, I was calling around to some local barbecue places to make a reservation for dinner. I asked each place about their sauce, cross contamination, could I have this that and the other thing, and most were more than happy to work with me. One restaurant (the one we'll be going to tomorrow night) was even able to tell me the sauce was definitely gluten free without having to ask the chef.

                                                                        When I call the last one, however, as soon as I say "I just have a few questions because I have some food allergies," the woman on the phone goes "oh you can't eat here." I was a bit taken aback by this statement, as I hadn't even told her what I was allergic to, and inquired as to why. Turns out, their barbecue sauce recipe is heavily guarded because of all the "secret ingredients" and they refuse to tell anyone what's in it. "Even if some of those secret ingredients could potentially kill some of your customers?" I asked. "We just tell people with allergies to not eat at our restaurant."

                                                                        Should I have been as surprised by this as I was? I'm not asking you to tell me your ingredient list, as I'm not particularly interested in attempting to steal their recipe, just tell me that it doesn't contain something that could land me in the emergency room.

                                                                        4 Replies
                                                                        1. re: whitneybee

                                                                          I would have been taken aback as well. I can understand that some restaurants aren't able to accommodate certain allergies due to cross-contamination issues, but it seems a bit much to exclude all food allergy suffers on the off chance it could be included in the secret BBQ sauce. Even knowing that a particular ingredient is included isn't going to reveal the entire recipe.

                                                                          1. re: whitneybee

                                                                            I can see their point- for example if peanut butter was one of their big secret ingredients, telling a nut-allergic person that they shouldn't eat the sauce would be a dead giveaway. I can see how that wold be frustrating, but at least they're being straightforward that they can't promise you a safe eating environment (because such a place probably wouldn't be watching for cross-contamination or other hazards) and so you probably would be better going somewhere else.

                                                                            1. re: whitneybee

                                                                              That is sheer lunacy. You should be able to tell them what you are allergic to and they should be able to tell you if you can eat their food or not. Unless you have a laundry list of 100 things you can't eat, I cannot fathom how that would be giving away their "secret recipe". However, they have a right to not disclose the info and you have a right not to eat there.

                                                                              1. re: whitneybee

                                                                                In all fairness to the restaurant. If they want to keep a recipe a secret, I can't blame them. There would be people that call in over and over trying to get bits a pieces of what is or is not in the recipe to duplicate it using things such as allergies and food intolerances for info retrieval. That sort of thing does happen.

                                                                                Plus you should feel better - this restaurant actually wants to keep you safe. There are many places that would lie as you are well aware.

                                                                                Also one last thing. There are recipes so secret that no employee knows what is in it, only a restaurant owner that would be making the recipe themselves, locked away from others. This does happen pretty frequently.