With an eye on the food allergy community as a unique group of consumers since 2008, we're on a quest to find and share ways to continue enjoying the good things in life.

15 July 2008

Fast Food for Food Allergies

I almost hate to admit this--because fast food is not the most nutritious or high quality food--but on our recent car trip, we made a stop at Burger King. After reviewing their website, and speaking to customer service, the kids meal with "Chicken Crowns" sounded like a safe bet.  Peanuts and tree nuts were possible cross-contaminants in only three individually packaged items that would be opened by a customer upon purchase--not Burger King.  At the time of our visit, the tree nut/peanut items were salad croutons and 2 desserts. Since the cross-contamination potential was so limited and even contained, we decided it would be okay.  I confess, however, that I sat and and observed my child eating, and watched for any sign of a reaction.  Everything turned out fine.

The Burger King was located in a scenic Connecticut town, not too far from Yale University.   Keep in mind, we have not eaten fast food in well over a year! My 4 year old was completely thrilled with the "Chicken Crowns".  This usually picky eater--who almost never finishes his plate--methodically ate all 5 "Chicken Crowns".  It was, in fact, such a happy occasion, that it was one of the first memories of his car trip which he shared with Grandma upon his return home. 

I am glad that my younger child enjoyed this "treat", but it was an educational experience for me as a parent of a food allergic child.  I have never been a big fan of fast food, and since the peanut allergy diagnosis, we very rarely eat at restaurants.  I was surprised that the Burger King website gives the level of detail it does.  In addition to addressing the top 8 food allergens as ingredients, the website indicates the potential for cross-contamination at the restaurant and also at the manufacturing facility. Wouldn't it be great if all restaurants and food manufacturers gave that kind of detail? Can you imagine?!  

Wendy's website gives fairly complete information, indicating both the allergen as an ingredient and as a cross-contaminant at the restaurant. They also have symbols to designate if an item contains tree nut or peanut allergens.  The McDonald's website does not provide as much information.  They only indicate if a menu item contains one of the big 8. 

In the online food allergy discussion groups, I frequently observe inquiries from those new to life with food allergies about whether a fast food restaurant or other food establishment is "safe" or not.  Everyone has a different comfort level.  I think you have to go with your gut instinct.  When we do eat out, I read what I can find on the websites and then I make a telephone call.  If I don't like what I read on the website, or what I hear on the phone, we don't eat there.  And if I do not like what I witness in person, I will not hesitate to get up and leave.  All we can do is ask the right questions, use our best judgement, and always, always carry that epipen!


Anonymous said...

Until I read this I never knew about the Chicken Crowns and I honest gave no thoughts about the needs for people with allergies. Thanks for opening up my eyes.

Unknown said...

Moviewatchers, thank you for stopping by and for your comment!

Jenny said...

Jennifer, you are so right about the comfort level thing. We always, always use our gut instincts with regard to restaurants and you're right...every food-allergic family has different comfort levels and needs.

I also have been impressed with the level of detail that fast food web sites give to food-allergic consumers. It just goes to show you that it can be done!

ChupieandJ'smama (Janeen) said...

We've done Burger King. And for the most part have had pretty good luck there. I have to go inside, explain the allergies, ask them to scoop new fries and not put them anywhere near the onion rings, but when that procedure is followed, we've had good luck. They explained to me that they can't fry the fries with anything else because the fries and the rest of the food are fried at different temps. The King closest to our house has told me that they mix the fries and onion rings (even though they aren't supposed to) and that "I'll just have to deal with it" so obviously we don't go there. And I reported them too.
McD's has dairy and wheat in their oil so that one doesn't work for us. Wendy's doesn't have a dedicated fryer so that doesn't work for us either.
So hail to the King :)

Unknown said...

Thanks for your comments, Jenny and chupieandj'smama. Avoiding dairy, wheat and/or soy, or having multiple food allergies make it even more challenging to eat out. I appreciate the detail on those website, but you are right--the detail does not help when the actual restaurant does not follow the head office's protocol for avoiding cross-contamination. Though I tire of my own cooking, this is precisely why we eat at home all the time.

Anonymous said...

I like the thought that we all have our own comfort level. My son is severely PA but loves McDonalds. The allergist told me that the peanuts and burgers he eats are far apart and cleaned by different people. (She has a PA daughter so she knows from a mom's point of view.) I still worry and may talk the manager at the one near my house to see what they practice. Maybe the allergist's comfort level and mine are a little different.


Ann said...

Burger King can be hit or miss. Fortunately, we've had more hits than misses. Check out www.FoodAllergiesToGo.com for some ideas on food allergy friendly restaurants.

dannyscotland said...

What a great post--I just found your site because my 15 month old daughter was just diagnosed with a peanut allergy, and I was looking for information about restaurants and fast food places. Right now, we eat out almost never, but I wanted to get an idea of where I myself might never eat again. Thanks for such a great post.