eating out with an allergyDo you feel nervous about having a meal out because of your allergy? Do you avoid visiting restaurants with friends or Sunday lunch at the pub with the family? Well, six pub/restaurant chains have now signed up to the Food Standards Agency Healthy Eating Initiative which is more considerable regarding anaphylaxis. Whitbread (Beefeater, Brewer's Fayre, Premier Inn), Mitchell & Butlers (All Bar One, Harvester, Browns restaurants), JD Wetherspoon, Marston's and the Spirit Group (Punch taverns, Chef and Brewer) are the companies who have committed to a number of projects, including making nutritional information more readily available to their customers.

JD Wetherspoon (popular for its Sunday roasts, curry club and steak club evenings) seems to have made quite a bit of progress on the allergy information front. Eating in one of their pubs a few days ago, I noticed there were food and nutrition leaflets on display. These list information on whether dishes on the menu contain gluten, nuts, sesame seeds, soy, egg, seafood, and milk. There's also information on calories, fat content, fibre, and salt to help you make a healthy - as well as a safe - choice. So, if you have multiple allergies the sweet potato, chickpea and spinach curry with poppadums is a good choice because it contains none of the above. In the kids' section, the Happy Monkey Strawberry & Banana Smoothie is equally allergen-free.

I checked progress in the other pub/restaurant chains and learned that Spirit group will be giving nut and seed allergy information in all new menu launches. Whitbread has been working with the Coeliac and Anaphylaxis Society on the development of dishes suitable for people suffering with allergy and makes allergen information available on its website. Marston's is developing a full database of nutritional information. Menus on Mitchell & Butler's Harvester website list detailed information on the content of peanut, fish, shellfish, milk, tree nut, soy, eggs, and gluten (though I haven't seen these detailed menus in the restaurants themselves).

This is all good news - because most serious incidents involving people with a food allergy happen when they are eating out. Until clear and accurate allergen information is available everywhere, there are some simple guidelines you should follow to protect yourself from allergy symptoms. If you have a peanut or shellfish allergy, it's best to avoid Thai or Chinese cooking, although you will be fine if you have a milk allergy because these cuisines tend not to use it. If you are at all unsure as to whether you might be exposed to an allergen when eating out, ask the waiter or waitress and if they don't know what's in a dish, talk to the chef. If you, or your child, is very sensitive to peanut or some other allergen, do remember the kitchen will not necessarily be allergen-free (even if the allergen is not actually in the dish you have chosen). Traces of allergen can easily be transferred from surfaces in the kitchen to your food. The big six restaurant chains are to report back to the FSA on a six monthly basis, so we can look forward to further progress on safe eating out with an allergy.