Safely Travel Gluten Free and with Food Allergies
As Featured in Allergic Living Magazine
After her diagnoses of food allergies (dairy, fish, shellfish, assorted food preservatives), chemical and environmental allergies (goose feathers, ammonia, penicillin, cat and dog hair), and then celiac disease, Kim Koeller, President of GlutenFree and AllergyFree Passport, decided if she couldn’t beat her food concerns and allergies, she had to manage them.
She scoured websites for information, joined 20 international allergy and celiac associations, read books and hundreds of articles. But she found hardly any advice for avid travelers trying to navigate airline meals and restaurants with waiters who speak a different language.
Koeller’s solution? The award-winning Let’s Eat Out! series of paperback books, ebooks and mobile apps. Co-written with Robert La France, it’s dedicated to eating out while managing 10 common allergens. From the road, Kim spoke with Laura deCarufel from Allergic Living Magazine:
Laura: If you gave only one restaurant tip, what would it be?
Kim: Arm yourself with the knowledge needed to safely eat gluten and allergen-free in any restaurant. Always double-check ingredients and preparation techniques, even if something might seem safe.
For example, wheat flour or bread crumbs may be added to a flourless chocolate torte, or risotto might be made with seafood stock, even if the dish itself doesn’t contain seafood or vegetables may be steamed in the same steamer as lobster. Knowing what questions to ask the staff and what modifications can be made to accommodate your dietary needs will empower you to have a safe and enjoyable dining experience.
Laura : What’s the best gluten free & allergy-friendly restaurant meal you’ve ever had?
Kim: That’s really difficult. A sampling of the best would include: In N Out Burger in San Francisco for the first burger I could eat with my hands (it was wrapped in lettuce); Prêt a Manger in London for my first “sandwich without the bread”; Café Marley in Paris for my first entrée served with a superb allergen-free sauce; Brazzaz in Chicago for an amazing Brazilian churrascaria; Il Fornello in Toronto for my first gluten and dairy-free pizza and Bistro 990 in Toronto for an incredible allergy-free experience.
Laura: Allergic people are often fearful of foreign travel. Were you ever intimidated?
Kim: I was daunted by eating out around the corner, especially after I was diagnosed with celiac disease and multiple food allergies. But I was working as an international management consultant, and by that time, I’d already flown over a million miles, eating 75 percent of my meals away from home in over 20 countries on four continents. I wasn’t willing to give up what I loved to do, so I needed to figure out how to eat gluten and allergy-free food anywhere in the world.
Laura: What’s been your worst travel food experience?
Kim: I’ve gotten sick from dishes with allergens hidden in various ingredients, or because of preparation techniques such as wheat flour being added to omelettes, steaks that were finished in butter, sorbets with whey stabilizers, etc. But out of all my experiences, I think the worst one was in Washington, D.C.
Some colleagues and I went to a restaurant that refused to serve me anything out of fear of liability. Not only was this shocking and embarrassing – it infuriated me. Instead of leaving in frustration, one of my colleagues politely asked, “Can’t you just make her a salad with fresh vegetables?”
Laura: A lot of parents of celiac and allergic kids think foreign travel is too risky. What do you say to them?
Kim: I understand & empathize. That said, I believe it’s really important for kids and adults to feel comfortable with traveling. It’s all about education, communication and preparation. Having an understanding of food ingredients, how food can be prepared and what techniques require attention is key. Cooking oil, for example, has serious potential for cross-contamination.
When ordering French fries, celiacs should ensure that a separate fryer is used so the fries don’t absorb residue from battered foods such as chicken fingers. Ensuring a dedicated fryer is also important for those with dairy, fish and shellfish allergies so no cross contamination from fried foods such as cheese sticks, breaded calamari and battered fish occurs.
Even checking to see if the mashed potatoes are made from artificial potato mix is critical for those with peanut allergies as some mixes contain peanuts!
Sauces also pose potential problems for the gluten-intolerant. Marinades may contain soy sauce, which contains wheat, and sauces in French cuisine are often made from a roux, which contains wheat flour.
Knowing what questions to ask in English before traveling to a foreign country is critical, as is being prepared with medications, such as an EpiPen, in the event that something goes wrong. This approach takes effort & courage, but from my perspective, the end result is definitely worth it!
(c) Copyright AGW Publishing Inc.
More Travel Tips From Authoritative Expert Kim Koeller
Food Allergy Survival Tips for Travelers
Studies show that about 78 million Americans have food allergies or food intolerance, or are following gluten-free diets, according to Kim Koeller, the founder of health education company GlutenFree Passport.
Education, preparation and communication are the keys to avoiding these allergens and traveling safely, Koeller says.
- Education – Before traveling, she says, learn how dishes at your destination are often prepared, what ingredients are used and where hidden allergens may be found.
- Preparation – Order special airline meals in advance, and bring snacks suitable for your diet and medications for a food-related emergency.
- Communication – Tell airlines, restaurants and hotels of your special dietary requirements.
“Instead of simply asking, ‘Is this dish free of gluten, dairy, peanut or whatever allergen?’ you need to ask questions based on ingredients and food preparation in restaurant language terms,” Koeller says.
If you are gluten-free, sample questions could be: Are hamburgers and the flourless chocolate cake made with bread crumbs? Is the chicken flour-dusted? Are french fries fried in the same oil as breaded items such as chicken fingers?
Determine what food-preparation modifications “can be made to easily accommodate your requirements,” Koeller says.
How to Travel with Allergies
It’s important to be able to communicate your allergy to restaurant staff. Many websites such as Allergy Free Passport offer translation cards that list (in the country’s local language) what you’re allergic to and how severe it is, some even indicate what sort of medical treatment is needed if you have a reaction. Print these at home and carry them with you at all times. It’s your responsibility to make sure restaurant staff understand your allergy. “Talk to the server first,” says Koeller. “If you don’t feel comfortable, talk to the manager or chef. If you still feel uncertain, consider going somewhere else to eat.”
No Wheat, No Dairy, No Eggs – No Problem
Dining out can pose risks for travelers with food allergies or dietary restrictions, and doing so abroad, where the diner may have a less-than expert grasp of the language, may increase that risk. Kim Koeller has been there and has successfully learned to navigate culinary pitfalls while on the road.
Koeller said knowing what to ask and being informed about preparation procedures can help travelers ferret out possible allergens. “The complications really depend upon the country,” she said. “Certain countries are more attuned to and are aware of food allergies and gluten free diets that others.”
Koeller’s GlutenFree Passport has a quick solution for overseas travel – downloadable translation cards available for free and in 12 diffferent languages. Take steps to prevent food allergies from grounding your travel plans.
Traveling with Food Allergies—Smart Traveler: Expert Opinion
Kim Koeller, co-author of Let’s Eat Out!, offers these tips for dining out while traveling. Prepare: “If you use an allergy medication, have it on hand at all times. Those who require an EpiPen—used to treat anaphylaxis—should carry a doctor’s note.” Request: “When traveling by plane, request a special meal and always pack snacks in case of delays. If your allergies are contact-based, ask to pre-board and wipe down your seat and the one next to it.” Communicate: “Well-trained restaurant staff will be receptive to your needs and always double-check that your requests have been met.”
Gluten-Friendly Dining Out
According to Kim Koeller, president of GlutenFree Passport and AllergyFree Passport and an expert on special diet trends, “The repeat loyal customer is amazing!”. Citing market research her company conducted recently, she adds, “92% of gluten and allergen-free guests will return frequently to the same eating establishment after a positive eating-out experience. Gluten-free and allergen-free guests are a profitable and loyal market globally,” she says. “There’s a terrific opportunity for increased revenues when food service professionals ‘get it’ and customers feel safe.”
Cheers are Pouring in for Gluten-Free Beer
Kim Koeller, president of the educational firm GlutenFree Passport, served as the North American representative & bartender at the first-ever gluten-free beer festival in the UK. “Just to be able to pour gluten-free draft beer and seeing the looks on everyone’s faces—it truly was fabulous.”
Dining Out Gluten-Free and Worry-Free
“In order to feel safe eating out everywhere, it’s all about education, preparation and communication,” says Kim Koeller, president of GlutenFree Passport and author of the award-winning Let’s Eat Out! series. “Educate yourself on what you can and cannot eat, be prepared to inquire about at least 2 or 3 potential menu items and know what questions to ask about the dish based upon ingredients, culinary practices and food preparation.”
Have Food Allergies and Sensitivities, Will Travel
Discovering the full extent of her food sensitivities hasn’t stopped Kim Koeller, the Chicago native, from dining out in more than 25 countries, the most notable being Russia. “The approach to eating out safely is a collaborative process between guests and restaurants. When you’re eating out and traveling, there are three key things to remember: education, communication and preparation.”
Eat, Work & Travel Gluten / Allergy Free -Autism One Path to Wellness Radio Show with Kim & Robert
- Part 1: Special Diet Concerns (16 Minute MP3 Audio File – 1.9mb)
- Part 2: Corporate Luncheons (14 Minute MP3 Audio File – 1.6mb)
- Part 3: Traveling Abroad (15 Minute MP3 Audio File – 1.8mb)
- Part 4: Eating Out Considerations (10 Minute MP3 Audio File – 1.2mb)
- Part 5: Hidden Food Allergens (7 Minute MP3 Audio File – 880kb)
Kim’s Advice on How to Safely Dine Out Gluten & Allergy Free Podcast with Shelley Case, RD (20:12 Minute MP3 Audio File – 4.6mb)