October 7, 2013

One of the great pleasures of foreign travel is interacting with local people.  And a great way to gain an understanding of a culture is to share in the local cuisine.  Ordering food is easy.  Even if you don’t know the language, you can always point to an item on a restaurant menu or point to the actual food if you’re at a market.  But ordering food when you have food allergies or other diet restrictions can be challenging.

 

Here are some general tips that we’ve gathered from personal experience and from speaking to other travelers.

  • Stay healthy by eating healthy.

  • If you’re buying packaged foods from a grocery store, show your SelectWisely card to the store clerk and ask them to check the product label.  Product labeling laws are not the same in every country so be cautious.

  • Some countries use potentially allergic foods in their sauces and seasonings for flavoring and thickening.  Be careful in the following countries:

    • Spain uses ground almonds often to replace flour in cake baking.
    • A type of German beer is based on wheat (Weisse).
    • Japan and China use soy in their cooking broth.
    • Miso (soybeans and barley or wheat or rice) is a basic element in many Japanese soups, stews and braised dishes.
    • Peanuts are present in some types of Dim Sum (congee) and hot mustard greens in China.
    • Rice is sometimes mixed with barley or soybeans for flavor and nutrition in Korea.  And fish can be stirred into a common breakfast porridge.
    • Borscht (beet soup) can be thickened with barley in Russia.
    • Be wary of pastries in Argentina and Portugal that might contain almonds, almond paste or powder.
    • Cookies, chocolate candy and cakes often have peanuts or nuts in the United States so be especially careful of packaged foods.

       

  • Drink only pasteurized milk.  Eat only pasteurized dairy products.

  • In most major European cities you can safely drink water in restaurants.  However, if you want to be extra careful, drink bottled water or carbonated drinks in cans or bottles.  Make sure to check the seal on the cap to ensure that the bottle wasn’t already used and resealed.  Avoid fountain drinks.

  • If you’re concerned about the drinking water, remember that ice cubes fall into this same category.

  • Bring small eating utensils: knife, fork and spoon  This is especially important when traveling to regions that use chopsticks or no utensils at all like parts of East Asia.

  • In countries where multiple languages are spoken as in China or India, be highly selective.  If you are traveling in remote areas, local people may not be able to read.  The international prohibitory sign and picture of the product on the SelectWisely card will help get your message across but also ask other travelers to help you translate if needed.

  • Check your food after ordering.  Visually inspect it and confirm by using your SelectWisely card again.

  • Carry snacks – fruit, packaged crackers (assuming gluten free), bottled water.

  • If you purchase food from an open air market in remote areas, purchase thick skinned fruit that you can peal like bananas or mangos.  Stay away from foods that might be washed in local tap water.  Use you own knife to cut the fruit.

  • Bring a package of antihistamines – like Benadryl.

When ordering or purchasing food, open your wallet or passport and pull out your SelectWisely card.  Show both sides of the card.  Point to the picture of the food with the international prohibitory sign.  Make sure they understand.
 
Airlines
 
The majority of international air carriers provide special meals if you notify them in advance. Some offer an extensive variety of meals and have gone to great lengths to satisfy personal needs in this area. Continental Airlines and EL AL list detailed menu plans on their websites. Air India, JAL and Korean Air have extensive lists of optional meals. Most of the special meals are focused on religious, diabetic, vegetarian or dietary plans like low-fat or low-cholesterol. Some mention lactose-free and gluten-free meals.
 
However, there are very few references to nuts, peanuts, shellfish or gluten-free, so be sure to ask whether meals include your specific problem food. If you are severely allergic, it is highly recommended that you bring your own food on the plane.  Use the SelectWisely Doctor Notes if you need to take your auto-injector on the plane.
 
Food Labels
 
The only way to avoid an allergic reaction to food is to avoid that food. This can be done in several ways depending on the situation. Ask the food server what is in the dish, ask the store clerk about the ingredients in the packaged food, read labels, or eat only what you prepare yourself.
 
For packaged foods, reading food labels is the best method. However even the most faithful label-reader may be inadvertently exposed to their problem food at some point. In addition to different languages, countries have different food labeling laws which can provide more, less or confusing information. Use your SelectWisely card with the market vendor or store clerk to make sure.
 
Cross Contamination
 
Cross-contamination in food preparation facilities and restaurants is not uncommon. It’s easy to understand how similar foods might share the same pot or skillet in a busy restaurant. Cross contamination mainly occurs in three ways: “food-to-food” - touching or dripping, “food-to-hand” - handling by the kitchen staff, waiter or market vendor, “food-to-equipment” – preparing a meal with pots and pans. The best way to address this issue to make sure the person serving you food clearly understands your diet situation.
 

 

Tags: Food & Travel Safety · Food Allergies · Food Safety · Travel Safety