Friday, November 7, 2008

Is It Safe?

We take B out to eat at alot of restaurants in our area. We pretty much go anywhere except Thai and Vietnamese (no surprise there). I have my own set of criteria for determining if a restaurant is 'safe' for her. I thought I would list them, in no particular order, (along with some reasoning) for you all.

First I look at their menu (online usually) and scan it for anything peanutty. If that looks good, I'll go to the restaurant with my husband on a date, or I'll go at lunch, at which time I grill the manager and servers and either observe or ask about the following:
  • Are there peanuts or peanut butter in any dishes? Is it on the kids menu, or just on the grown up menu?
    If there are peanuts in the main dishes I usually avoid the restaurant with B. BUT if it's just pbj on the kids menu, we may still go. But here's the thing: B hates most kid foods so she eats what we're eating. She's not really a chicken nugget connosieur. So in my tiny mind I assume that kid stuff is not prepared on the same line as grown up stuff (for instance, they are not making a pbj on the same grill as my chicken - does my twisted logic make sense to you?). Plus some places use those smuckers prewrapped ones. If we're at a restaurant while we're on vacation or something and B gets a grilled cheese, I'll usually ask them NOT to cut the sandwich so I can lessen the risk of cross contamination with a dirty knife (I know, I'm crazy thinking this helps, but it does).
  • Do any of your sauces contain peanuts as a special ingredient or thickener? How about tree nuts?
    You would be surprised at the landmines I've rooted out by asking this. If there are tree nuts in the sauces it's not a deal breaker for us since B isn't tree nut allergic (although we don't feed them to her, her doctor has ok'd anything with trace amounts). But if there's 'peanut butter in the chili' so to speak, we wont take her there.
  • Are there peanut desserts? Is it a topping or a main ingredient?
    We don't give her dessert out (usually) but if they only have vanilla ice cream with whipped cream on the menu, we'll let her have it as long as they don't do nuts there.
  • Do they fry in peanut oil? What do they fry in the oil they do use?
    Even if they don't use peanut oil to fry (which some deem safe for PA sufferers anyways) they may be frying nutty items in it (yes, there are fried PBJs). It's worth asking so your little one doesn't react to fries fried in the same oil as a peanut fritter or calzone.
  • Do they give out crayons? Are they in new packets or in a big cup?
    A big turnoff for me is when I see that big bowl of recycled crayons at a restaurant. Yuck. I don't even want to think of the germs on those, much less the possible peanut residue.
  • If they make shakes, do they share the equipment with non nutty shakes?
    Not to worry, I would NEVER give B a shake at a place that had pb icecream, but I find that if a restaurant is conscientous about making nutty shakes on a dedicated machine, they'll likely be conscientous about other things too.
  • How do you manage special requests for food allergies?
    Obviously, this is like the essay question on your LSAT test and is open wide for interpretation. But alot can be said for the response you get. Once I was told matter-of-factly that my daughter was "eating peanuts every day and just didn't know it because peanuts are in everything." Nice attitude huh? Needless to say, we didn't take B there (nor did we venture back in).
I didn't say that the questions were all rational, people, and this definitely isn't all that I do to ensure my daughter's safety when dining out. Mind you, some of this goes right out the window if I'm in a funky mood. And sometimes I just get a bad feeling in some places even if they go above and beyond.

And I'm sure some of you will think I'm taking a risk going anywhere.

What is YOUR criteria? What do you deem safe when looking for a restaurant to meet your 'peanut allergy safe' standards?


Elaine said...

These are great, I love it, thank you for sharing. I never thought about not cutting the grilled cheese, that is a great one.

We have yet to eat anywhere that serves PB&J. I do ask lots of the same questions, and get looked at like I'm an idiot sometimes, oh well, safety of my kid comes first.

Thai was once my favorite type of food, my husband is very glad that is off the list, at least while the little one is around...

Tara said...

LOVE the no cut grilled cheese idea! I will definitely steal that one.

I think we are pretty similar... I check the menu as a preliminary measure. Then call and speak to a manager. Then ask again when we arrive. Ava's such a *particular* eater though-- as long as I can get her fresh fruit and veggies, she is usually happy.

We have a few go-to places though... a local pizzeria, an Indian place, etc... where nuts are either not used or used so sparingly that I feel comfortab;e taking her there. And even then, we still have the anxiety... That just never goes away, I think.

Anonymous said...

Maybe it goes without saying, but a lot of restaurants post nutritional information including allergy info on their websites along with their menus. We always check for that info before we go and usually print out the lists of safe/unsafe items to have on hand at the restaurant. And we always speak to a manager at the restaurant.

Marjorie said...

I'm no example to follow as I'm pretty slow on this food allergy thing. I appreciate your suggestions about potential cross-contamination with cutting grilled cheese sandwiches and the comment about crayons. I hadn't thought of those before.

Jen G said...

There are a few restaurants that are wonderful about peanut allergy (PF Changs, Panera, etc) Disney is fantastic! I make sure to thank them every time.

I am very friendly in my inquiries to start with but I also always tell those wait staff or others at a restaurant that seem like they are a little "slow" or don't care- "Yes, my son has a peanut allergy- if he eats something with even a little peanut in it it can kill him-he'll stop breathing." This usually gets them to be a little more careful in checking.

I also check out the menu to see if there is other peanut food on the menu- that usually cues me in on possible cross- contamination

Just a note about Texas road house- when you walk in..on the floor everywhere- peanut shells. Not a good idea. I was so surprised.