Chow Town

Safety tips developed over the years for those with food allergies

Shrimp, crab and lobster cause most shellfish allergies.
Shrimp, crab and lobster cause most shellfish allergies. KRT

Food allergies (particularly to shellfish) have been part of my life for almost 30 years. Some safety tips from the greatest teacher — experience.

Learn to cook. Understanding what ingredients commonly go in food is the single best way to protect yourself.

Ask questions. If you’re embarrassed to ask in front of a date or business client, call ahead to the restaurant to find a dish that is safe for you to eat. Remind staff of cross-contamination hazards.

Use your senses. Look at and sniff food prepared by someone else before eating. Get over the fear of looking odd.

Beware the nonsensical. For example, if you’re eating plain sauteed French green beans and you suddenly taste fish, it’s time to break out the Benadryl or epi pen.

Make sure the restaurant where you’re eating has at least one person on duty who speaks a language you understand and speak well.

Food allergies don’t manifest in the same way in every person. I turn red and my throat swells; other people break out in hives. If you don’t know your symptoms, but suspect you have an allergy, keep a food diary and you’ll start to see patterns. Food allergies can change over time.

Restaurants are becoming more aware of food allergies. Some print an individual menu based on what’s safe for you. Bo Ling’s, for example, has my name in their computer with my phone number, flagged with what’s dangerous.

Don’t allow other people to serve you from a buffet. You have no idea what you’re getting. Order from the menu if you can’t select your own food.

If environmental allergies are raging (pollen, dust, mold), food reactions will be more severe. The government paid someone to prove that in a study, but I could have told them years ago.

Some people insist on challenging their food allergies. Just because the last exposure didn’t kill you doesn’t mean the next one won’t.

There are still far too many people who don’t “believe” in food allergies. People who say they love me have served me shellfish in spite of my query about the gumbo, for example, assuring me there are “no shrimp in there.” Yet when I looked into the bowl, there the little devils were. People, this is the same as pointing a gun at my head.

Don’t believe promises, not even for a second. Always check labels and avoid even the possibility of exposure from packaged food from any source. Worse yet are the labels that say the company is careful to clean its equipment, but yes, this is processed where (fill in allergen) is processed. Put that package down and walk away. Also, organic/whole/natural stores are no better at avoiding common allergens than any other source, in my experience.

Don’t go to the grocery store when you’re tired or seriously distracted. You’re less likely to pay attention to what you’re buying.

Always have Benadryl and/or an epi pen with you when you leave the house. No excuses. And if you haven’t, get a workup from a doctor. It can save your life. is a good place to learn more. I don’t agree with everything they say, but it’s the best site I’ve found.