POSTED ON AUGUST 7, 2013:
Allergy Safe Restaurants
Not that hard to come by
Food allergies have come to the attention of many as we become more educated about health conditions and as we struggle with this genetically modified world. Older adults are discovering they have allergies that they never had before, and parents more and more often need to worry about allergies and intolerances. In light of this, the public at large is more aware, though not always more sensitive, to allergies. Even with this new found awareness, having a food allergy can make eating out difficult. An anaphylactic allergy can even make people downright restaurant-a-phobic.
As a result of widespread allergies, families and individuals have taken their problems and knowledge to the internet. A Google search of "allergy safe restaurants Tulsa OK" turns up many pages of results. Searches like this are overwhelming, plus personal ratings and recommendations mean so much more than questionable information from unknown sources. There are several great sites on the internet that provide meaningful information regarding allergy safe restaurants.
A great site to visit is allergyeats.com. This site allows you to input city, state and allergy and it comes back with friendly places to eat and allows the user to search by restaurant. For gluten allergies, findmeglutenfree.com provides a comprehensive list of restaurants that provide gluten-free options.
Finding restaurants that are conscientious and diligent in their efforts to deliver allergy safe environments doesn't have to be expensive. Fast food restaurants can be as wonderful for allergy awareness as their smaller, more expensive counterparts. The first example of stellar efforts by a fast food franchise is McDonald's (I know, right?). According to employees and the customer service number, foods containing allergens must be stored separately from other foods. There is also a list of ingredients for every food item on their website. They do serve some high allergen products, but their strict policy to prevent cross-contamination sets them apart. Other fast food establishments that provide ingredient lists on their websites are Wendy's, Burger King, KFC and Taco Bell to name a few. However, none of these eateries list online any policies addressing cross-contamination.
As for sit-down restaurants, there are many worth mentioning. P.F. Chang's has a gluten-free menu. They also note on their menu that anyone with food allergies or special dietary needs should notify their server. P.F. Chang's does serve potential allergens, but the chef personally prepares the meals for those with an allergy. They do this to ensure there is no cross-contamination. In addition, the servers are very knowledgeable and will help make sure the diner doesn't order anything that could be unsafe for them.
"We have a safety protocol using an allergy matrix so that we can show the customer a tangible sheet with what dishes they can and can't have," said Chad Sanger, an operating partner of Chang's. "We also put the [allergic customer's] food on a P.F. Chang logo plate to keep it separate."
He went on to say that they have a clean wok policy and they also keep their utensils clean to prevent any cross contamination. Though they can't make guarantees, P.F. Chang's is adamant about protecting every customer.
Kilkenny's Irish Pub and Eatery features a gluten-free menu, and the servers are very knowledgeable of their menu and ingredients. Kilkenny's does serve potential allergens such as seafood, eggs, and dairy but is able to modify its dishes to accommodate any allergies. In addition to this, managers and servers alike will help make sure that any dish you order either doesn't have the allergen in it or it is prepared without it. A manager also assured me that they always try to avoid any cross-contamination, and will pay especially close attention if you make it clear that a specific item coming in close proximity to the dish being prepared could be dangerous to the customer.
While Zoës Kitchen serves tree nuts and seafood, its employees are helpful and knowledgeable regarding strict procedures to avoid contamination. Among the restaurant's procedures is a regular changing out of all of the gloves and thoroughly cleaning all prep areas being used. In addition to this, their website has a full list of ingredients and nutritional information. Tree nuts and seafood are served here, but they have strict procedures to avoid contamination, including changing out all of the gloves and thoroughly cleaning all prep areas being used. In addition to this, their website has a full list of ingredients and nutritional information.
This list is by no means all of the amazing restaurants that truly care about the health of their customers. Not every establishment is conscious of cross-contamination, which can be dangerous for those with anaphylactic allergies, but you'd be hard pressed to find an eatery that would refuse to modify a dish or leave something off for you.
For example, Smashburger has many foods that contain allergens like peanuts, tree nuts, eggs, dairy and soy. They are perfectly willing to prepare any items without an ingredient when possible, but some dishes have things like eggs used in their preparation and therefore can't be left out. The other potential issue for some is the fact that things like buns come from an outside facility that manufactures allergens on the same equipment.
I did hear a story from one individual where the manager grilled a burger himself in order to make sure the grill was clean and no allergen touched the burger. Smashburger also has a really awesome chart on its website that shows each and every item on the menu and what allergens it does and does not contain.
As always, food allergy sufferers must remain vigilant and educate those around them. As time goes on, more and more establishments become truly secure for even those with the worst allergies. In the end, the answer is no restaurant is truly allergy safe if it serves something the customer is allergic to. The only choice is to eat at restaurants that are conscientious and concerned with the health of their customers. Always ask about the ingredients to make sure they are safe since there can be foods that aren't listed used in dishes. Stress to the server that consumption and/or contamination with said item may have dire consequences; a concerned customer will be taken more seriously than a seemingly unconcerned one. Keep an EpiPen on hand and a cell phone close by, and always eat with caution.
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