Traveling can be tough enough, but if you or other family members suffer from food allergies, hitting the road can be a nightmare. About 4% of adults and up to 8% of children younger than 4 have allergies to various foods and additives, according to the Mayo Clinic, so planning is key. Here are some ways you can cope:
Be prepared: Take extra doses of self-injectable epinephrine and antihistamines. If you're flying, carry a signed letter from your physician explaining the need for the medication and have your pharmacy's label on the bottle or box.
Call the airline: If you or someone in your family has a peanut allergy, ask about peanut-free flights. If notified in advance, Southwest Airlines won't serve them on your flight. Each airline has its own policy, but generally, it's safer to fly early in the day before peanut residue builds up in the plane. Also, plan to take your own snacks onboard. Your physician should explain the necessity for this in a letter.
Find a safe hotel: If you have inhalant allergies, ask which cleaning solutions are used and if nonsmoking rooms are available. Some hotels are totally nonsmoking, or have smoke-free floors. For instance, Habitat Suites in Austin, Texas, (http://www.habitatsuites.com) caters to people with chemical sensitivities. Unless you're sure you can tolerate them, request that down-filled pillows and comforters be replaced with nonallergenic alternatives. The luxury of down isn't worth the stuffed-up nose and swollen eyes. Ask about pets; if they're allowed, you may have to book elsewhere.
Look for suites: Hotel chains with suites mean you can cook your own meals. Most of these suites have fully equipped kitchens with a refrigerator, dishwasher, cookware, dishes and utensils.
Visit the nearest grocery store: After you arrive, ask for the location of the closest supermarket or health food store.
Eat in: Anyone with a gluten, dairy, nut or other food allergy will find a variety of safe foods at Whole Foods, which has stores across the U.S., plus locations in Canada and London. It also offers organic fruits and vegetables, a bakery and prepared entrees, veggies, salads and desserts to take back to your suite. If you prefer, buy the ingredients and do your own cooking. It can set your mind at ease and save money too.
Eat out: Scrutinize the menu ahead of time (many are online), then call with questions about menu items. Establish direct contact with the person who will prepare your food. Most chefs will be happy to work with you. Emphasize that cooking surfaces, pans and utensils must be cleaned to remove possible traces of food allergens.
Eating out Part 2: Some fast-food and restaurant chains, such as Outback Steakhouse, McDonald's, Subway and Taco Bell, list detailed ingredients on their websites.
Healthy food to go: Look for places specializing in meals for people with food allergies. Most offer delivery, or you can get takeout. Here is a partial list to get you started:
MyFitFoods: No additives or preservatives. All meals are low fat, high protein, low cholesterol and low sodium. Call to double-check on possible allergens when ordering. Locations in Houston, Dallas and Austin, Texas. http://www.myfitfoods.com
Savory Moment: Uses hormone-free and antibiotic-free beef and pork. A range of gluten-free items and potential allergens are listed. It delivers in Washington state for $25 (it's based in Redmond, Wash.) or you can order online. (425) 867-1516, http://www.savorymoment.com
OMG It's Gluten Free: This Chicago-area company offers gluten-free baked goods, plus pizza, lasagna, chicken Parmesan, sandwiches and a kids menu. The kitchen is 100% gluten- and peanut-free. You can get dairy-free cheese for an additional charge. (815) 469-4900, http://www.omgitsglutenfree.com
Copper Pot Creations: This Calgary, Canada, facility is 100% free of wheat, gluten, dairy, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, soy, sesame, fish and shellfish. Mostly main dishes and soups. (403) 585-4717, http://www.copperpotcreations.com
Disney World: It can accommodate most food allergies and intolerances. E-mail a representative at SpecialDiets@DisneyWorld.com when booking dining reservations (at least 72 hours in advance). Ask to speak with restaurant chefs if you have questions. (407) 824-5967
Citi Field: The New York Mets have opened the Kozy Shack Gluten-Free Stand, serving hot dogs, hamburgers, sausages, puddings and beer, on the field level outside the World's Fare Market.
iPhone apps also can locate useful information:
iEatOut Gluten and Allergen Free lists by cuisine which dishes are safe and which to avoid.
ICanEatontheGo Gluten and Allergen Free concentrate on meal options at 20 fast-food chains.
WebArtisan Food Additives provides detailed information for more than 450 food additives and explains reaction risks, symptoms and an additive's derivation.
Safe2EatTB is your app if your family loves Taco Bell. You can check more than 65 menu items for five common allergens.