Eating Out With Food Allergies

Families of children with food allergies get particularly nervous about dining out. For certain people, unsanitary or disorderly kitchens may be not just be cringe-worthy, but downright dangerous.

Earlier this summer, Sharon Brigner's son Brandon was one of many children who had an extremely close call. On June 11 at a Chuck E. Cheese restaurant in northern Virginia, Brigner told that her son had a severe allergic reaction to egg after eating several mozzarella sticks that unknowingly contained the food he was allergic to.

Brigner said this week that the reaction happened despite her son's nanny asking the manager of the kid-friendly restaurant twice whether the food contained egg, and being reassured by the manager that it did not.

The allergic reaction immediately closed Brandon's throat and sent him to the hospital where he received a maximum dose of epinephrine to recover. Brigner said the doctor told her that if a reaction so severe happens again, it could result in death.

"He said, 'I've used my arsenal of medicines. I don't know what else to do,'" Brigner recalled. "Those are scary words for me to hear as an ER nurse and a mom."

Brandon has made a strong physical recovery but remains so upset by his close call that he anxiously watches his mom prepare food.

Brigner is now certain her family's scare is among many that highlights the need to step up restaurant safety. The plea comes at the same time that a report details unsanitary and unsafe conditions, such as contaminated kitchen countertops, in restaurants nationwide.

To make sure people stay well while dining out -- whether they are getting sick from dirty conditions or put in danger due to allergies from unannounced ingredients -- calls for restaurant safety are rising. To prevent severe allergic reactions, many people say those efforts need to begin with close communication between customers, servers, managers and chefs, and perhaps also include public signs and posters detailing the ingredients that meals contain.

"We encourage staff to know what the most common allergens are," Sheila Weiss, registered dietitian and director of nutrition policy for the National Restaurant Association, told "We encourage them how to avoid cross contact -- that if a mistake is made, to take the food back and remake it, not just scrape the cheese off, for example."

"Our incident could have been prevented," said Brigner, a registered nurse and deputy vice president for affordability and access at the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America. "It is like handing a child a loaded gun. This is a food that can and will kill him if not receiving the proper care."

The Emotional Impact of Food Allergies

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, food allergies plague between 4 and 8 percent of children nationwide. The CDC said it is still trying to understand why, but it appears that food allergies are on the rise.

Food allergies are responsible for up to 200 deaths and 30,000 emergency room visits every year, according to the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network, a nonprofit group dedicated to raising awareness about food allergies.

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