Food Safety

Take the food allergy out of the itinerary

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One can never be too sure when it comes to food allergies. That still shouldn’t stop one from embracing life with open arms.

Last winter, while I was at the gate after checking in in Hamad International Airport (Doha), I happened to be sitting beside a couple, Mathew and Smitha, who were fellow passengers of the same flight too. They had recently retired at the time and decided to visit a different country every 6 months. Up until then, they had visited three different countries from Europe and the next one in queue was Thailand, via UAE.

This charming couple had so much to share about their journey so far and just as our train of conversation had made a pit stop at haggis, (I honestly cannot recollect how we touched the subject, though I suspect one of our links could have been German sausages) Mathew paused for a moment and quickly searched his bag with a worried expression. I had assumed he was probably trying to check whether his passport was tucked away securely in his bag.

Mathew: Hey Tia (Smitha’s nickname), did you carry a copy of the prescription?
Smitha: We both did, honey. Check the side pocket on the left. It’s with the EpiPen.
Mathew: Okay, got it. Whew! And the copy of the action plan is here too.
Smitha (with a reassuring smile): I know. I checked before we left the hotel.

Mathew then continued the conversation explaining that he was allergic to onions, and that he had only found this out recently at the time. It took a dinner at a friend’s residence to shed some light on this and strangely enough, Mathew had never been allergic to onions before. Ever since that fatal encounter with onions, Mathew and Smitha have been taking precautionary steps to ensure that this food allergy did not get in the way of the lives of the budding travel enthusiasts. Having said this, their children did not fully agree with their decision to go globetrotting and following that dinner, most of their friends had tried to talk them out of it.

This conversation and many others with friends who suffer from various food allergies and are ardent travelers as well prompted me to work on an infographic post that provides a few quick tips to tackle food allergens whilst traveling.

Allergens and traveling

© Judy Sebastian – Food She Blogged. Note: This post is not intended to displace or replace any professional medical advice pertaining to food allergens.

1. Planning is essential
You can never be too sure when it comes to food allergens, especially if you’re visiting a country you’ve never been to before. Try to understand what the local cuisine is like and where they source some of their major ingredients from. It helps to map out clinics or hospitals nearby and department stores as well in case you’re looking for alternative food (or beverage) products to carry with you while you’re on the go. Don’t forget to refer pet policies of hotels and even on flights, in case you’re allergic to fur or dander as well.

2. There is no room for compromise when it comes to communication
Unless you communicate with your host that you suffer from a food allergy, it would be hard to frame pleasant memories of your trip. In case you’re visiting a country for the first time try to grasp the names of the ingredients that you’re allergic to in the local language, so that you can explain what should not be a part of your menu. You could also carry pictures of the ingredients you’re allergic to in your backpack or smartphone with a cross sign that indicates, ‘None of these, please.’
Worst case scenario – do the funky chicken.
Reading food labels when shopping for food helps and if the ingredients aren’t specified in a language you’re familiar with, then try  asking someone using the steps explained above minus the funky chicken.

Sometimes, it’s hard to find a location that caters to your dietary requirements, simply because the ingredient you’re allergic to seems to surface in one way or the other – take for instance, soybean oil that’s used extensively in Thailand.
Even if the restaurant can serve a dish that doesn’t contain the suspected ingredient, the purpose is defeated if they prepare the dish using the same utensils and equipments as trace amounts of the ingredient from a previous preparation may contaminate your dish. In such cases, it’s best to self cater or carry your own food, though it would have to be dry if you were constantly on the move.

3. Stay prepared with an action plan
It’s a good idea to carry your action plan with you so that a stranger, such as a paramedic, who is trying to assist you in case of an emergency would know right away what sort of help needs to be administered. An action plan would essentially contain details such as what sort of medication you’ve been prescribed and where have you placed it (pockets, purse, backpack, etc). It should also carry important contact details so that a reliable person can be reached should the need arise. It’s best to include at least three contact numbers, one of which is your doctor’s, in your action plan.
It is strongly recommended that individuals who travel a lot and happen to suffer from an identified allergy carry their action plan with them at all times, along with their medications – otherwise it would be hard to get any information out of someone who’s got a swollen tongue, a dipping pulse and has collapsed.
In addition to this, always carry your medication with you (extra supplies, where feasible) and a copy of your prescription as well, though the original would have to be submitted for verification purposes or to make additional purchases.
4. First line of control is hand hygiene
Most of us underestimate the need for good hand hygiene and in the pursuit of building our own defenses, we forget that many chances of cross contamination can actually be reduced significantly through simple yet effective hand hygiene practices. If you’re traveling to a region where water supply is going to be scarce, you may want to stock up cleaning supplies like wet wipes or trusted sanitizers. Where possible, a good interaction between soap and water brings down the bacterial count and also prevents cross contamination to an extent. This is something to remember when you’re traveling in groups and one of the members happen to suffer from a food allergy.

Of course the infographic included above is a general outline – there are many more areas to look into when it comes to traveling, especially with children. Feel free to comment below if there’s something you would like to add to this list or share an experience.

Until then, happy travels!


Comestible regards,
Judy Sebastian




  1. Nasser Zeidan El Shafey

    May 2, 2015 at 2:14 am

    Onion allergy !!
    We should be more aware about others’ allergies and don’t underestimate any type of allergy

    • Food She Blogged

      May 2, 2015 at 11:41 am

      Absolutely Mr. Nasser.
      Not hearing about an allergy does not mean that it does not exist.

  2. Beatrice Chan

    May 6, 2015 at 11:25 pm

    As a seafood and sulphur dioxide allergy sufferer and a lover of slow-travels, I feel the pain of so many allergy-prone individuals out there. It is not easy. One of my friends has a peanut allergy, she cannot even smell it – now imagine on some airlines they hand out little packs of nuts as snacks! For that reason, she travels with a syringe so her partner or friend can administer a shot of antihistamine. Hectic.

    • Food She Blogged

      May 9, 2015 at 8:50 pm

      Hectic indeed. It’s great that there are people out there taking added measures. I guess it really helps if there’s help that you can trust being around in case of an emergency.

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