According to research, as many as 15 million Americans have food allergies, and the number is growing. Studies show that food allergies in children increased at a rate of 50% between 1997 and 2011. Food allergies can be life-threatening. Individuals with food allergies need to stay away from the offending allergen or they could risk going into anaphylaxis shock, which could lead to death. Given the risks, it can be difficult for people with food allergies to eat in restaurants. If you or a loved one has a life-threatening allergy, there are specific things you need to do when dining in restaurants. Here are a few tips that may help save your life.

Speaking With the Manager

Given the increasing prevalence of food allergies, many Italian restaurants are training their managers how to safely handle customers who have food allergies. Before you enter the establishment, call and speak with a manager about your food allergy. Sometimes, it’s best to avoid the establishment altogether if the offending allergy is used in many dishes. For example, a restaurant chain that places a bowl of peanuts on each table would definitely be a no-go for someone who has a peanut allergy.

Tell the manager when you are expecting to arrive at the restaurant, and ask to reserve a table that can be prepared for you prior to your arrival. That way, the table can be wiped down before you arrive to reduce the risks of the offending protein being left on the table by the previous diners. This is important because a clean dishcloth should be used to wipe down the table.

Ordering Safe Foods & Avoid Cross Contamination

Of course, the offending allergen cannot be an ingredient in your meal. The manager can tell you which foods in the restaurant will be safe for you. However, even if the allergen is not an ingredient, there may be a risk of cross-contamination. Cross contamination can occur with just one small protein from the allergen ending up in your food.

Many restaurants will need to prepare your food separate from other foods to avoid cross-contamination. For example, if you have a gluten allergy, your food should not be prepared with the same utensils that were used to prepare a dish with gluten as an ingredient. Sometimes, kitchen staff will simply rinse off utensils in between various foods, but this is not a safe practice for someone with a severe food allergy. A clean, disinfected utensil will need to be used. In some restaurants, the manager will prepare your dish for you to ensure there is no cross contamination. If this is not a common practice in the restaurant where you will be dining, ask the manager to prepare your plate for you.

Receiving Your Meal

When you receive your meal, be sure to have your epinephrine pen nearby, just in case something went wrong. The sooner the reaction is noticed, the faster you can self-treat with your epinephrine pen. Make sure the other diners at your table know that you have a food allergy and what the signs are in case you start having a reaction. That way, they will know immediately to call 9-1-1 for you when they see you inject yourself with your life-saving medication— epinephrine. This is important because you may not be well enough to make a call to 9-1-1 yourself, and precious seconds will be ticking away.

While having a life-threatening food allergy can be worrisome, you don’t have to completely avoid dining out in restaurants or ordering take-out to eat at home. It’s crucial to speak with the manager so precautionary steps can be taken so you can avoid a reaction.