If you or someone you love suffers from serious food allergies, you probably already know all the ins and outs of making certain that the food prepared in your home kitchen is safe to consume. However, dining out can be a process fraught with peril for many people who are allergic to specific types of cuisine, and some avoid eating in restaurants altogether. However, trained chefs in quality establishments are usually able to easily accommodate patrons with food allergies, and you have a right as a customer to ask certain questions. Following are five things that you should ask the management about how food preparation and delivery techniques are handled for patrons on special diets.
1. Will your food be prepared separately? Cross contamination is one of the biggest hazards of eating food that's prepared in commercial kitchens. Make sure the restaurant has a designated area for fixing foods for those with allergies.
2. Who will serve your food? Food prepared specifically for those with allergies should never be delivered on a tray loaded down with other dishes or by a server who stacks plates on his or her arm -- this creates too many opportunities for cross contamination because of possible allergens on other plates. Your food should be delivered separately by the manager, the sous chef, or by the head chef.
3. Can your table be sanitized? Sanitizing your table will protect you in the event that small crumbs or other traces of allergens were left behind when it was last cleaned. All it takes to sanitize your table is a thorough wiping down with a clean cloth treated with a bleach-based disinfectant solution.
4. Are separate grills and deep fryers used to prepare the food of those with special dietary conditions? Keep in mind that even if a restaurant has a designated area for the prep work of food for those with allergies, they may not have an actual separate place to cook the foods. This is particularly true in smaller establishments that simply don't have the room for separate cooking environments. If this turns out to be the case, opt for something cold.
5. Who will be preparing your food? In most restaurants, the head chef is responsible for the preparation of all special requests. This person is likely to have earned a degree from an established culinary school and will therefore be educated in food preparation techniques for those with allergies.
If you have questions about dealing with a specific food allergy in day-to-day life, make sure to consult with a medical professional.