When you find a restaurant you love, it’s a magical thing. The food is delicious, the service is impeccable, the host may even know your name when you come in. Now imagine having to worry about whether or not the food they serve is safe for you. That’s the reality many people with food allergies live with every day.

Around 12 million Americans suffer from food allergies, roughly four out of every 100 people. Eight different food groups — known as the Big Eight — cause a majority of these food allergies:

  • Milk
  • Eggs
  • Fish
  • Shellfish
  • Tree nuts
  • Wheat
  • Peanuts
  • Soybeans

Just like other harmful foodborne agents like E. coli and salmonella, food allergies can pose a deadly problem. But what is it about these foods that cause problems? To someone who is allergic, certain food proteins can send the immune system into overdrive, causing puffiness and inflammation, and at worst a serious condition called anaphylactic shock. Anaphylactic reactions are sudden, widespread and potentially deadly. So what are some things you can do to reduce your potential of encountering allergens when eating out?

What’s on the menu?

When dining out, ask your server whether any of the allergens you’re sensitive to are on the menu or prepared in the kitchen. Be ready to verify what the menu says with the server or ask to speak to the manager if the server doesn’t know or seems unsure.

Be assertive, because an incorrect answer could negatively affect your health. By law, an employee of the restaurant is required to be knowledgeable of the presence of the big eight allergens in their food and should be able to answer your questions confidently.

What else is cooking?

Ask whether or not your food may come into contact with another allergen in the kitchen, like a gluten-free pizza being made on the same counter as a wheat dough crust. Cross-contamination could provoke an allergic reaction depending on the sensitivity of the allergy and if the area wasn’t cleaned properly afterward.

Some restaurants have greater chances of provoking allergic reactions, and it may not be the type you’re thinking of. When it comes to allergen safety, a fast food restaurant where few things are made fresh may actually be safer than, say, a bakery, where everything is made from scratch.

From the frying pan into the fire

A good rule for those with severe allergies to food is to carry an epinephrine autoinjector, commonly known as an EpiPen, or similar product that can be used to stop a reaction as soon as it starts. But what’s the best thing to do when prevention fails and an allergy kicks in? Call 911 and have trained health professionals, such as paramedics, treat you and block the protein you’re sensitive to.

Cleaning the plate

Stay safe when dining out by knowing what’s on the menu, knowing how it’s prepared and having a way to seek treatment. As long as you keep those three steps in mind, bon appetit!

SafeBee Top Three

1. Ask if any allergens are on the menu

2. Find out if the food is prepared near allergens

3. Seek treatment quickly if a reaction does occur