Most restaurants “don’t know about food allergies”
Dining out has always been a form of relaxation and fun for Mario Aquilina and his wife, but that all changed when their son was diagnosed with a food allergy last year.
It’s hard to find restaurants that keep us safe
After several medical tests and several months of tense waiting, Elias, 2, was diagnosed with an allergy to fish. He must avoid it at all times, as well as any food that could have been contaminated during preparation.
Having now been forced to make life changes to cater for their son’s allergy, the Aquilinas have faced the restaurant industry’s lack of awareness of these allergies and the specialized food procedures required.
“We are struggling to find restaurants that keep us safe.
“While a few restaurants have dietary procedures in place to meet the needs of allergy sufferers, unfortunately others are not aware of all of this.
“Some restaurateurs don’t even know the difference between food allergies and food intolerances, and how dangerous a food allergy can be. “
Before going to a restaurant, Mr. Aquilina makes a point of asking the staff if they would be ready to meet his son’s specific needs.
Some restaurateurs answer: “Yes, of course; but don’t order fish ”, prompting him to explain that contamination from cooking utensils or ingredients that have been in contact with fish can also be dangerous.
“Many restaurants fry the crisps in the same oil that is used for the fish fingers. However, we are not always immediately informed of this information, even if it specifies that Elias is allergic to fish.
Many establishments offer the Aquilinas. “Some even tell us that if they could not guarantee the absence of fish, we were nevertheless welcome to enjoy their food.
“I thought that was a pretty insensitive comment to make; we are naturally not going to take our son and make him watch us eat.
Mr. Aquilina and his family limit themselves to five restaurants that ensure the safe preparation of Elias meals.
“It would be very useful if there was a website listing restaurants flexible enough to meet the needs of people with special dietary needs.”
Some restaurants abroad provide complete allergen sheets on request, listing the main allergens present in each dish.
The President of the Malta Hotels and Restaurants Association (MHRA), Tony Zahra, confirmed that no courses have yet been held to educate the industry on the cooking procedures adopted in such cases.
“We are indebted to Mr. Aquilina for bringing this matter to the attention of the association and we will be discussing it internally to see how and when to best organize educational conferences on the subject,” Mr. Zahra said.
“The idea of having a website that specifically addresses this issue is also a great idea and we’ll see how the MHRA can best accommodate that.”
ALLERGIES AND INTOLERANCE – THE DIFFERENCE
Food allergies and food intolerances are often confused, but they are very different in their origin and treatment.
Food allergy is an abnormal response to food triggered by the body’s immune system.
Symptoms usually start immediately, within two hours of consuming the offending food.
Reactions may start with an itchy mouth, swollen tongue, eczema or hives, then progress to vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal pain. In severe cases, it can even lead to death.
There is no single drug that can cure food allergies – avoiding the offending food is the only sure way to prevent a reaction.
Common allergens include eggs, milk, peanuts, shellfish, soybeans, tree nuts, and wheat.
Food intolerance is more common than food allergy and does not involve an immune system reaction.
It is not life threatening but creates discomfort. Symptoms tend to be related to digestion and include cramps, diarrhea, gas, and bloating.
Some types of food intolerance can be treated; for example, lactase tablets help those with severe symptoms of lactose intolerance. Some people are even able to tolerate small amounts of the offending food.
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