After a recent trip to visit friends in Switzerland and Austria, I noticed something amazing. In Austria, food allergy awareness had increased since I lived there almost 5 years ago. I noticed food allergy codes required on menus to note where an allergen may be present. It made my dining experiences so much easier and less stressful. I was so happy to see this advancement for food allergies, however, I still remained vigilant to protect myself from accidental exposure to my food allergens.
I soon found out there was a new law governing food allergy awareness, labeling and education in the EU! It requires trained restaurant staff, coding or some way to communicate allergens on a menu, and proper labeling for food allergies on any food product. The menu notifications are a letter code system. The good part of traveling in Europe is that even though the languages are different, the letters are basically the same (unlike non-latin based languages). This allows the code system put into EU law in 2014 to be easily understandable across languages. Read more about it here and for Austria, here.
In restaurants, it is always important to have food allergies in writing (see my list here). Communicating clearly is important, so when in countries where English is not their national language, ensure the food allergy list is translated into the local language AND dialect. Self-translation is an option but there are also many services that can do this for a fee or I recommend reaching out to that country’s English-speaking expat communities online to help guide you with local translation.
Stay away from street vendors, food-stands with small kitchens, or anywhere that the food is not made on-site in a full kitchen. Never order your food online if you want take-out, always go to the restaurant to order and explain your allergies just like you would if you were eating in the establishment. Additionally, on a related note, when eating in someone’s home be extra cautious about cross-contamination in their kitchen…this can be difficult for multiple reasons, but it is very important to ensure they are aware that avoiding an allergen is more than just not adding it to your food.
When shopping for food, ensure you only purchase things with a label of ingredients and read it carefully, looking for your food allergies – actually, go ahead and review the ingredients twice. This means if you have a nut allergy, ensure you have the translation for each type of nut (this also goes for the translated food allergy list for restaurants). If you have a milk allergy, ensure you know all the ways milk may be noted on an ingredients list (e.g. cream, milk). If you are unsure, find someone who works in the store who speaks English. If you can’t find someone, don’t buy it and try another store if needed.
Overall, when traveling to countries where you do not speak the language, bring snacks (e.g. protein bars) that can get you through if you cannot find food that is safe to eat. Never eat anything that you cannot verify the ingredients and how it was prepared. And, in case of any errors, make sure you know how to get emergency help if needed. …and most importantly, don’t let your food allergies stop you from experiencing things and traveling everywhere! With proper preparation, anaphylactic food allergies are manageable.