Ever since giving up dairy products I’ve become a master of looking up allergen menus. If there’s no menu then I know which sites will have investigated it themselves. I’m lucky if I’m going to a health conscious or vegan/vegetarian restaurant, I know there will be specified options.
When planning a trip to Europe at the end of summer, I looked up the dairy-allergy-friendliness of different destinations. Then a theme came about. People with recent experience in those countries said that all menus listed their allergens next to the food.
This was amazing. So I wouldn’t have to do research before hand? I wouldn’t have to have an internal battle about whether to order something that seems like it would be okay or directly ask the waiter?
I realized how nice this would be, not just for people like me who have self diagnosed a problem with a food, but for people like my uncle who have a life-threatening allergy. Up until now it has seemed like the responsibility has been placed on those with allergies to navigate restaurant eating. And I don’t disagree with that. An establishment can’t be responsible for each individual. We have to take responsibility for ourselves.
However, in this time when people are allergic, sensitive, or just trying to avoid certain things, it would be really nice if we had the same system in the US.
When the EU created these regulations in 2014 they cited these reasons as being a part of the decision:
In the UK alone:
around 10 people die from allergic reactions to food every year due to undeclared
an estimated 1-2% of adults and 5-8% of children have a food allergy (around 2
million people within the population)
in addition to those with allergies, there are many people with food intolerances (eg.
1 in 100 people who suffer from coeliac disease)
While I’m sure there were people who were not happy about having to change their menus, I feel many more people can benefit from this. It also creates the need for restaurants to stick to the recipes they have used to determine the allergens. For instance, my uncle is allergic to peanuts. He could die from an extremely small amount. He was affected when his kids, my cousins, had peanut butter in the pantry growing up. He recently found a fairly expensive device called Nima, that can test whether there are peanuts present in the food. It runs over $200. While this is amazing technology, it is not practical for most people.
Upon using the device, he discovered that while eating the same meal at the same place tested negative for peanuts the first time, the second time there were nuts in the dish. The device saved him from consuming something that would have at the very least sent him straight to the emergency room.
While listing allergens on a menu wouldn’t have saved him in this case, I do believe having the allergens on the menu would make restaurants more conscious of how they cook.
At first it would seem strange, but we would quickly get used to it. It’s something that could help many people while eating out. If you’re wondering what this looks like, the allergens have a key that is across the EU, so you’d know what is in the meal based on some small letters on the menu.
We are all getting more conscious of what we eat and the affects they have. I believe all restaurants taking part in this practice would benefit us all.