This can be an overwhelming question when you’re dealing with multiple food allergies and a hungry family with growing children. I found it especially frightening when there’s no option for take-out or dining out that can accommodate food allergies.
Twenty-two years ago, when our sons were first diagnosed with food allergies, I decided to come up with a weekly meal schedule, so that everyone in the household knew that if it was Monday, they would be seeing tofu lasagna or tofu pizza with homemade crust on the dinner table that night. If were Tuesday, it would be steak or hamburgers. You get the idea.
I did this because I keep a very busy schedule, am a fish out of water in the kitchen, and confused and dazed in the grocery store when shopping for items that would be safe for all of our food allergies.
Oh, how I am smitten by the power of the food allergy chef card. This was our first trip to a foreign speaking country with our son and his food allergies, and believe me when I say I am very thankful that I took the time to prepare a detailed custom German food allergy chef card to be used in the Munich restaurants and surrounding towns. There were times when the waiters and waitresses spoke strong English, but there were also meals where they did not. In all cases, with some interaction between server and patron, and that small piece of paper with black, red and green ink, the food allergy message was effectively delivered to the chef. And I worried less whether or not the chef spoke English, because the paper with the food allergy message was delivered right along with the meal order slip. Each meal, it was delivered back to the table along with the plate of food, stained and crunched, looking quite used, making me quite happy. One time it was actually sitting on the plate in the food, but I didn’t mind because I know it had been in the kitchen to deliver the food allergy message.
Personally, on this trip the food allergy chef card provided an elegant yet powerful weapon in the arsenal of my most important food allergic diner. It delivered the food allergy message privately, loud, and clear. It minimized the stressful public banter between patron and server while improving the clarity of the food allergy message that actually reached the chef. Of course, we all know there is an inherent risk when dining out with food allergies, but why not use all of the weapons within our power to create a balance between keeping safe and leaving home? Will the food allergy chef card provide good results in the next restaurant? I don’t know yet. Will the food allergy chef card be as effective in other cities or other countries? I don’t know yet. Are all food allergy chef cards created equal? I don’t know that either. Will the food allergy chef card work for you? I can’t predict that.
Please keep in mind that I contacted the manager of each of these restaurants prior to dining there to see if they felt the restaurant was capable of handling my son’s food allergies. And they responded that they could handle the food allergies and that we needed to let our server know about the food allergies before placing the order. Also, the servers in these restaurants were NOT young inexperienced waiters and waitresses.
Click here to see the food allergy chef card I designed for my son to use in Germany. It’s English equivalent is also included. You are welcome to use the design for personal use only. This design is the property of Food Allergies To Go, LLC and is protected by the Terms snd Conditions at FoodAllergiesToGo.com. Please understand that you are agreeing that Food Allergies To Go is not responsible for the outcome of your use of this food allergy information.
I put many hours into this design after studying German, using www.translate.google.com, and the translate option within Microsoft Word. I printed the food allergy chef cards on paper, four per page, then cut them to fit in my son’s wallet. I considered laminating one to be reused but he preferred a disposable food allergy chef card in case it picked up any cross-contamination en route.
There are places online where you can buy food allergy chef cards, but I’m not sure what they look like since I have never seen one. Of course, I can’t know how effective they are. Please tell us your food allergy chef card experiences and let other readers know where you got your food allergy chef card.
As a family, we have been dealing with multiple serious food allergies for 23 years. Here are some suggestions you may want to consider if you decide to travel abroad with food allergies.
Many of these food allergy suggestions serve us well even when we are traveling within the U.S.
Get a note from your Doctor stating your food allergies and that you necessarily must carry your Epi-pens with you at all times. My son’s note also states that it is medically necessary for him to bring his own food when traveling. The note may be useful at the security check point and Customs’ check point. My son carries a copy in English and in the language of the destination country.
Hard shell suitcase filled with microwaveable, low preparation safe foods. This will need to be checked baggage if it contains liquids that would exceed the onboard baggage regulations. The hard shell has done a good job of protecting food contents for us. I also include a photo copy of the doctor’s note inside the suitcase, so that security and Customs’ employees will understand we are transporting food because of the food allergies. They will likely be inspecting the contents of the suitcase when we are not available to explain my son’s personal situation regarding his food allergies. I also include a copy of the doctor’s note that has been translated to the language of the country of destination and I highlight the line regarding food allergies and food transport. On a recent trip to Germany, there was a note in the suitcase that let us know that airport personnel had checked the contents of the suitcase after it had been handed over to the baggage person at the check-in counter.
Some people with food allergies prefer to mail the safe food to the final destination before they leave home.
Pack bread. Sometimes we find it difficult to find safe bread because of the food allergies. This may not apply if you are not allergic to milk and eggs.
Your safe food will need to clear Customs, in either scenario above. If the package/suitcase doesn’t clear customs, it will not be permitted into your destination country. I research the Customs regulations of the destination country using the internet.
For our recent trip to Germany, I learned that meat, fish, and dairy products are not allowed through Customs. Not being one to accept “no” for an answer, I read many pages of the official Customs’ website for Germany and finally found a page that explained that individuals who need to carry food into the country for medical reasons are allowed to bring in small amounts of the prohibited foods. The wording seemed like it would apply to food allergies. In this case, there was a weight limit on the allowed amount of food. It’s important to understand all of the details that apply to your particular food allergy situation. I printed the pages from this website and took it with me in case we needed it.
Even travel between Hawaii and the Continental U.S. has some restrictions pertaining to the transport of food.
Carry medications and back up medications in your carry-on bag, not your checked bag. And bring extra quantities. I am sitting in the Munich airport as I write this, and our flight keeps being further delayed due to the volcanic ash cloud from Iceland. We were supposed to fly out two days ago, but our flight was cancelled after we checked our bags. We had to remain in the chaos at the airport for six extra hours to claim our bags. I was very pleased when I learned my son with the food allergies had packed his meds and extra food allergy friendly food in his carry-on backpack.
Carry excess food allergy friendly food in your carry-on bag. See above. My son carries a small soft lunch cooler in his backpack. Before he leaves home he fills it with an ice pack and lunch meat. Some bread, etc. go directly into his backpack. Worst case is security telling him to toss the ice pack. If so, we’ve already been en route more than one hour and the cooler will keep the meat cool for a little while longer. Best case, security is ok with the ice pack accompanied by the doctor’s note and the meat remains chilled for many hours. We always pack multiple Ziplock bags from home; we fill a Ziplock with ice for the trip home since we don’t typically have a means to re-freeze the ice pack. Sometimes the ice bag makes it through the security check point and sometimes it doesn’t.
My son also carries multiple small bags of David’s sunflower seeds and Kashi TLC bars for the flight. The sunflower seeds are a source of protein that don’t need refrigeration. His biggest challenge is to hide the bags from me, because I love those things!
We also have a rule that it’s ok for him not to share with other family members. It’s only fair since we can either pack our own or find something to nibble en route.
Have a plan in place to feed the individual with food allergies upon arrival to your destination and upon your arrival home. Our actual trip from the hotel in Munich to our home was 20.5 hours thanks to the Iceland volcano ash cloud. We were very grateful that my mom was available to cook for our son with the food allergies while we were driving home from the airport.
Understand your airline’s food policies before you buy the ticket. Sorry Delta Airlines, but we avoid you like the Swine Flu since you have a tendency to generously distribute bags of peanuts on your flights, and my son has a peanut allergy.
Food Allergy Chef Cards in the language of your destination. I am still amazed that my son with multiple food allergies has been able to safely dine in restaurants where he and the server did not understand each other’s language. My goal was to design a Food Allergy Chef Card that is thorough, yet not too busy. The translation needs to be accurate. This was necessary to communicate the food allergies.
You will find the Food Allergy Chef Card that my son recently used in Germany below. You are welcome to learn from it or print out a copy of it for your own personal use. If you steal my design for commercial purposes or to make money from it, you will be sure to hear from my lawyer. Also, you are agreeing that I am not responsible for the outcome of your use of this food allergy information. All of the details are spelled out in the Terms and Conditions of FoodAllergiesToGo.com.
My son’s German Chef Card for food allergies:
Bitte geben Sie diese an den Koch.
Ich habe ernsthafte Nahrungsmittelallergien.
Keine Milchprodukte (Milch, Rahm, Butter, Käse, Joghurt, Kasein, Molke, etc.).
Kein Ei (Ei, Mayonnaise, etc.)
Keine Erdnuss (Erdnuss, Erdnuss-Öl, etc.)
Keine Baum Nüsse (Mandel, Paranuss, Kaschu, Haselnuss, Pecannuss, Pinienkernen, Pistazie, Walnüssen, etc.).
Verwenden Sie eine saubere Theke, saubere Hände, saubere Pfannen (nicht der Grill) und sauberes Geschirr.
Lebensmittel Berühren Sie keine anderen während der Vorbereitung meiner Mahlzeit.
Verwenden Sie KEINE Inhaltsstoffe Cross-mit Lebensmitteln Ich bin allergisch gegen kontaminiert.
Garen Sie Lebensmittel nicht in Friteuse, wo allergenen Lebensmitteln gekocht worden.
My son’s English Chef Card for food allergies:
Please give this to the chef.
I have serious FOOD ALLERGIES.
NO DAIRY (milk, cream, butter, cheese, yogurt, casein, whey, etc.).
NO EGG (egg, mayonnaise, etc.)
NO PEANUT (peanut, peanut oil, etc.)
NO TREE NUTS (almond, Brazil nut, cashew, hazelnut, pecan, pine nut, pistachio, walnut, etc.).
Use a clean counter, clean hands, clean pans (not the grill) and clean utensils.
Do NOT touch other food while preparing my meal.
Do NOT use ingredients cross-contaminated with food I am allergic to.
Do NOT cook food in fryer where allergenic foods have been cooked.
Traveling is a great time to actually wear your Medic Alert ID bracelet or neck chain, or the equivalent. My son hangs his neck chain on the outside of his shirt while going through the security check point. That way he doesn’t have to remove it from his neck and risk leaving it behind in one of the bins during the commotion. Also, it’s supportive evidence that he genuinely is dealing with food allergies that require Epi-pens and safe food.
Print out a copy of the restaurant information you will need from FA2GO.com. I usually print out a copy and stick the pages in a folder in my backpack. Since the site’s restaurant information is accessible by iphone, Blackberry and some other smart phones, we make sure we bring one of our phones to refer to the site from wherever we are that has internet access. This has proven to be very convenient for us.
FoodAllergiesToGo.com is a database of food allergy specific restaurant reviews. As of May 2010, the site includes many cities in the U.S. (including four Hawaiian Islands), Montreal, and cities from six countries in Europe. The goal is to reach every corner of the planet! Please contribute your favorite food allergy specific restaurant to the site to help achieve the goal.
The site also contains our personal food allergy grocery list, as well as stories relating to our experiences with school, college, travel, and this Blog.
Contact restaurant managers before you leave home via e-mail or phone to discuss your personal food allergy situation. It is important to know that the restaurant seems like a good fit for your food allergy requirements.
Find out from your mobile phone company how much it will cost to access the internet while you are abroad. As I mentioned above, we like the convenience to access FA2GO.com from our iphone or Blackberry when we are traveling.
Learn some useful phrases in the native tongue of your destination country. I usually put the first 8 Pimsleur lessons ($30 at Barnes and Noble) on my ipod and study them on the treadmill at the gym. I also use Google.com/translate and the translate function in Microsoft Word to be sure I understand the many ways that my son’s food allergies can be stated in the country of destination. This has proven very useful when reading food labels in a foreign language at the grocery store. If I see certain terms, I know that the food is not safe for his particular food allergies. If the label seems safe, but I am not certain, then I use a translate app on the iphone.
I also make a “cheat sheet” of phrases that might come in handy while in the destination country. See the sample of German Phrases below. I cannot guarantee the translations are accurate.
Help, call the ambulance.
Hilfe, rufen Sie den Krankenwagen
I have food allergies.
Ich habe Nahrungsmittel-Allergien.
I am allergic to milk, egg, peanut and tree nuts.
Ich bin allergisch auf Milch, Ei, Erdnuss und Baumnüsse
My son is allergic to milk, egg, peanut and tree nuts.
Mein Sohn ist allergisch auf Milch, Ei, Erdnuss und Baumnüsse.
For example, milk, cream, ice cream, yogurt, cheese, casein and whey.
Zum Beispiel, Milch, Sahne, Eiscreme, Joghurt, Käse, Kasein und Molke.
For, example, almond, Brazil nut, Cashew, Pine nut, Pistachio, Walnut, etc.
Zum Beispiel, Mandel, Paranuss, Haselnuss, Kaschunuss, Pecannuss, Pinienkernen, Pistazien, Walnüssen, ecetera
For example, egg, mayonnaise, etc.
Zum Beispiel, Ei, Mayonnaise, ecetera
There is egg in mayonnaise.
gibt es Eier in Mayonnaise
What is the German word for …
Was ist der Deutsch Wort für …
Milch, Melken, Milch geben, Milchen
Molkerei, Mölkerei, Milchhandlung, Milchgeschäft
Nuss, kleines Stück, Birne, Spinner, Schraubenmutter, mutter
Kaschu, Kaschunuss, Kaschubaum
Haselnuss, Haselnuß, Paranuss
Walnuss, Wallnussbaum, Nussbaum, Nussbaumholz
Please, I would like to speak with someone who speaks English.
Bitte, Ich möchte mit jemandem sprechen, der Englisch spricht
My family will be at the hotel May first.
Meine Familie wird im Hotel May ersten sein
My husband does not speak German
Mein Mann spricht kein Deutsch
I need a refrigerator in my room.
Ich brauche einen Kühlschrank in meinem Zimmer.
Will there be a refrigerator in my room?
Wird es einen Kühlschrank in meinem Zimmer sein
I need a microwave oven in my room.
Ich brauche eine Mikrowelle in meinem Zimmer
Does the hotel have a microwave oven to put in my room?
Hat das Hotel eine Mikrowelle in mein Zimmer gebracht?
Is there a store close to the hotel where I can buy a microwave?
Gibt es einen Laden in der Nähe des Hotels, wo ich eine Mikrowelle kaufen kann
Please give me your e-mail address and I will send you my question
Bitte geben mir Ihre E-Mail-Adresse und ich werde Ihnen meine Frage
Book a hotel that will provide a mini refrigerator in your room. Better yet, some hotels provide mini refrigerators and microwaves in the guest rooms. We’ve had situations where we could only find a mini bar refrigerator in the hotel room. Some hotels will remove the mini bar contents and let you use the refrigerator for medical reasons, including food allergies, if you call ahead and explain your situation.
Some hotels don’t make it obvious that they have mini refrigerators and/or microwaves available for the guest rooms. Be sure to call the hotel and ask. I’ve discovered places that will provide a refrigerator and/or microwave upon request even though it‘s not obvious on their website. Some will make their restaurant’s refrigerator or microwave available to you if they don’t allow them in the rooms. You will have to decide how much risk you are willing to take and what works best for you and your food allergies.
There are hotel specific details at FA2GO.com.
Pack individually wrapped hand wipes. We use the CVS brand individually wrapped hand wipes. They are not “proven” to remove nut oil or anything else for that matter, but we’ve had good luck with them. I probably should carry Lysol wipes for certain things since they are supposed to remove nut oil from surfaces, but I hate the thought of them leaking into the other items in my luggage. This is a good example of individual risk tolerance. Some people with food allergies have mentioned they use Lysol wipes to wipe down the airplane food tray and seat area. My son is 23 so he knows enough not to put his dirty hands in his mouth and not to eat something on a dirty or risky surface. It’s obviously different if your family member with food allergies is a young child or contact sensitive.
Plan out meals and snacks each day for the individual with food allergies before you leave the hotel. Being spontaneous is not fun for me if someone in the family is hungry and there is nothing safe to eat.
When you return, please be sure to let me know about your trip and share your food allergy restaurant experiences, so that the next person with food allergies who ventures out may benefit from your findings.
I love to hear from my readers.
Happy Travels! Please be safe!
Each time we travel, we learn something new for the next trip, so please follow FoodAllergiesToGo.com,
FA2GO.com (for those of us who like shortcuts),
Food Allergies To Go on Facebook (numerous travel pictures including the inside of hotel mini refrigerators) and,
Twitter.com/FA2GO for the most current food allergy restaurant reviews as I travel.
It’s extra work to travel with food allergies, but we think it’s worth it.]]>
Happy May 1st, 2010. Just flew Lufthansa from Boston to Munich with my son who has food allergies to milk, egg, peanut and tree nuts and I am happy to say the flight was extremely uneventful. Yeah!!!
The flight was packed, on time, and they didn’t serve those scary little bags of peanuts that some airlines can’t seem to break free from. I was so pleasantly surprised when we were 35,000 feet in the air and the beverage/snack cart made its first appearance and my eye caught a glimpse of the shiny blue and silver packet draped in tiny pretzels. Is it for real? Is that a pretzel? I pinched myself to be sure it wasn’t just wishful thinking (sorry gluten free people). The bag wasn’t bursting with tiny peanuts just waiting to choke my sleeping son. It was full of pretzels. And to add happiness to joy, there was no sign of milk, egg or nuts on the label. I sat there and freely enjoyed that tiny bag of bliss with my plastic cup of water while my 23 year old fell deeper into his peanut free snooze.
Row 52 of the massive jet liner started to feel like Mr. Roger’s neighborhood by the time dinner was served at 9:30 p.m. Bud was awake and had just finished a snack from his back pack when the food carts reappeared. He seemed very happy to be on his way to Munich and I didn’t feel my usual food guilt when I picked at the beef something or other on my tray and hubby dug into his pasta whatever. I consumed my carrots, beans and cheesecake, while number one son sipped on a glass of white wine. I thought to myself, this is a mother’s dream beyond the 15 minute rides in the car when the two of us were buzzing towards a friend’s house and he was still young enough to depend on me for a ride. We had another six hours to go and he was pinned between me and the outside wall of the plane.
Back to the food on my tray. Yes, there were dairy items and probably egg ingredients that he was allergic to, but nothing dusty that was sure to be airborne and dangerous like the forever dreaded bag of nuts. For the next few hours we chatted through the night, while hubby snoozed from exhaustion.
Approximately 8:30 am Munich time, the sun was up from a gorgeous sunrise and it was time for breakfast. We had 90 minutes left on our flight. Dear son had just finished the turkey and avocado sandwich from his bag, when the Nature Valley Oat and Honey bars arrived to potentially dampen my bliss. I thought “pooey“, my nirvana was about to be broken. I knew from experience that these bars when sold in the U.S. were made with peanut flour. Dare I break out the reading glasses? Dare I read the ingredients? Could they possibly use a different recipe than the one that breaks my heart every time I read the box in my local grocery store.
I mustered up the courage, dug out the extra strength reading glasses and did a double take after reading the label. Is that real? Did I read that correctly? Did that just say oat flour? What? No peanut flour? Am I thaaaat over tired? Whoah. It really does say oat flour. How wonderful is that?! Ok. Don’t get carried away. Reality check. There is a “may contains” statement for peanuts, almonds, and something else. Yeah, but that pales in comparison to breaking open almost 500 peanut flour bars.
Good day Lufthansa, good day. I will certainly be happy to fly with you again next time we embark on an adventure. And I will be sure to tell all of my friends and acquaintances that you are not addicted to peanuts like some other airlines. To top it all off, we arrived on time and it wasn’t even raining as forecasted.
See you on the runway!