The Food Allergy Research & Education Conference with Nut Free Wok: Food Allergy Travel Hacks
Sharon Wong from the Nut Free Wok is here to share her favorite parts of the topics presented during the FARE 2017 conference with Gluten Free & More readers.
This is part of a series of posts from Sharon Wong, blogger at of Nut Free Wok, reporting from the Food Allergy Research and Education Annual Conference.
Food Allergy Research and Education (FARE) hosts an annual conference for individuals, families, and professionals who are interested in food allergies. I spent a wonderful weekend in San Antonio at the FARE conference, April 28-30, 2017. Approximately 200 people were in attendance to “connect, inspire, and unite” around the topic of living with food allergies and anaphylaxis.
Please note that although these snippets of information are from top medical doctors, please always consult a board certified allergist/doctor to manage your allergies.
Food Allergy Travel Hacks
One of my favorite sessions was about traveling with food allergies - such an important topic! There were three terrific speakers - including Kyle Dine, the food allergy musician, who travels the world with his family, Gwen Smith, editor of Allergic Living magazine and a frequent business traveler, and Mary Vargas, a disability rights attorney who has represented families with food allergies.
Below are Kyle Dine's top 5 food allergy travel hacks:
1) Be prepared for language barriers. Use allergy translation cards to communicate your allergies and their severity. It’s easier to communicate about your allergies in tourist areas than rural areas. Trust your gut feelings about whether a server or a chef understands your allergies based on how they respond to your requests. You can always ask for a manager. Learn important key phrases in the language.
2) Plan for the worst, but hope for the best. Carry a wallet card with relevant information such as your allergies, a local emergency number (for example, some countries use 999), insurance information, emergency contact, and where you are staying. Pack extra safe snack foods, just in case. Bring extra epinephrine auto-injectors as some countries do not have EAI available.
3) Eat smart. When shopping at supermarkets, look for fresh fruits and vegetables and be familiar with the labeling laws especially if traveling internationally. Consider dining out at gluten free or vegan restaurants because they have experience with catering with dietary needs. Research local cuisine in order to be aware of hidden allergens and learn your allergens in the local language.
4) Lodge smart. Renting a home via an online service allows you to cook for yourself. If you prefer staying at a resort, ask what accommodations can they provide regarding your allergies. Do they have medical care on site? Obtain contact information for medical services and be sure to bring extra cash for emergencies.
5) Adjust your expectations for yourself but also your travel companions. Be content with simple meals and look for ways to enjoy the local culture, people, music, and local activities. It’s possible to travel. Kyle believes that the world is a beautiful and fun place and you can see it all with food allergies
Gwen Smith of Allergic Living shared some of her experiences as an adult with food allergies who frequently travels for work. Before booking an airline ticket, understand an airline’s food allergy policy. Find out how are they accommodating and contact them to confirm their allergen policy. Is it within your comfort zone that some airlines serve nuts in business class?
Fly earlier in the day, as planes are cleaned overnight and the planes during morning flights will be cleaner. Will you be able to pre-board to wipe down your seating area? Mayo Clinic shared research findings which shows that the amount of peanut protein on airplane tray tables after peanuts are served mid-flight are greater than restaurants which serve unshelled peanuts.
Bring and eat your own food and snacks. Pack extra food in case your flights are delayed or cancelled or you might end up with another carrier. Keep your epinephrine auto-injectors with you and accessible at your feet or in your pocket, not in an overhead bin or checked baggage. Other options to consider include requesting a buffer zone, making an announcement, and offering to buy alternate snacks and drinks as goodwill toward other people seated near you.
Mary Vargas mentioned that people with food allergies who travel by train have rights covered by the Americans Disabilities Act (ADA), but travelers still need to be prepared with their own food and emergency medication.
In contrast, airline passengers have more limited rights under the Air Carrier Access Act. At the very least disabled passengers have the right to pre-board in order to be seated safely and in a timely manner. Being able to pre-board and wipe down the seat surfaces will help reduce the risk of an allergic reaction and it’s important for both physical and emotional health. Be mindful of children’s anxiety when negotiating accommodations at the gate or on the plane, as not all airlines are helpful. As an example, American Airlines specifically states on their website, “We are not able to provide nut “buffer zones,” nor are we able to allow passengers to pre-board to wipe down seats and tray tables.” The Department of Transportation is investigating complaints alleging that American Airline’s pre-boarding policy for disabled passengers is discriminatory because food allergic passengers are the only group of people with disabilities who are excluded from pre-boarding. I'm personally looking forward to see how this issue ends.
We are not alone in our struggles to travel safely with a disability. We can actively advocate alongside other communities. There are stories of passengers who use wheelchairs having to crawl or who are injured in transport. There are many experiences that are not unique to life with food allergies and there are opportunities for cross-disability collaboration.
To learn more about any of these topics, visit FARE’s website, and consult with your allergist for more information.
Sharon Wong blogs at Nut Free Wok - crafting allergen-aware asian fare. She is a food allergy mom, who uses her own experiences with recipes, cooking techniques, Asian ingredients, and food allergy-related awareness and advocacy issues, to help her blog readers navigate a nut-free life in a nut-full world.