Internat'l travel w/food allergy - pitfalls and strategies


I have a son with a serious peanut/tree nut allergy. So far we’ve only done family vacations domestically (or to Canada) where there is not much of a language barrier issue. I say not much because we will go to the occasional Asian place and the servers have a limited understanding of English. When in doubt, we don’t give certain things to the kid.

We are thinking of starting some international travel and it will likely be the case that most of the time we go out, we won’t be able to speak the language, ask questions, request extra care to avoid cross contamination, and so on. Considering Italy at the moment, where I know there are lots of nuts in the cuisine. Some things will be obvious. No pesto. No gianduia. Go easy on the gelato unless a separate serving spoon for each flavor (and then there is still some risk). No mortadella. But when it isn’t obvious…, then what?

Has anyone out there successfully navigated international travel with food allergies - whether your own or a family member’s?

Could you find someone, or multiples of someone who speak French, or Italian, or German (dependent on your destination), and ask them to write out a query in that language that you could hand over when dining at your destinations? Something like: “We have a serious peanut/tree nut allergy. Can you please tell us what menu items to avoid here?”

Please don’t rely on any online translator.

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Yeah, possibly I could. It’s just that in advance communications written down are quite inflexible. They don’t offer any possibility of a dialogue, or them asking us questions, or us asking them questions, etc. Or us reacting to a particular situation as it unfolds… We may have to settle though, short of cramming in several or more years of foreign language study before travelling.

I suppose it’s a vote to start in England too, where they sort of speak English :slight_smile:

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I’m unsure about the situation in other parts of the UK but, in England, food businesses are now required to post information on menus about allergens, including nuts. In Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, food safety is a matter for the devolved governments but you should be able to check it out online.

OK, that’s the good news. The bad news is that many restaurants make their declaration by saying they cannot guarantee no nuts. It’s something of a catch all because of them buying in products from food wholesalers.

By the by, I’m recently back from three weeks in Spain and cannot recall seeing anything on menus there.

Thank you. One of our local grocers - Trader Joe’s - does the same thing. On just about every ingredient label, they say “may contain traces of peanuts or tree nuts.” Which is kind of a cop out, because when you put a label on everything, there are only 2 options - to avoid everything or not to take it seriously at all. It’s a meaningless gesture in order to CYA.

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I’m going to butcher this reply cause it’s been a year and I just don’t remember the details. But we were in SE Asia and a couple in our group had an app on their phone that could translate pretty much any word into any language. See if anyone can give you more info on that.

We have traveled to enough countries and have always found that in most cases they speak english to some extent. My wife is a diabetic so she must watch her diet. Do your research to find out what they eat most of the time where you are going and just go from there. We have found if you learn just a little bit of the language any country appreciates the effort. Have fun.

I was allergic to peanuts and chocolate as a child (yay me!) and my parents would be careful when we traveled to SE Asia and India. They learned the phrases for “she cannot eat peanuts or peanut oil” and would also write it down on a card with a picture of peanuts to show the chef. (chocolate was much easier to avoid). It worked fine. (side note, I outgrew my food allergies around the age of 11.)


I was googling and I came across this website for getting proper translated information regarding allergies/medical conditions

One suggestion I’ve seen is having a card with icons of the forbidden foods in a red circle with a slash.

That said, if the allergy is serious, I would NOT rely on these at most non-tourist restaurants. Does the server even know what’s in the dishes? (E.g., does the sesame sauce for the dish also have peanut butter?)

There was a recent article in the Boston Globe about allergies in restaurants. The point of the article was that too many people say they have an allergy when they don’t and the restaurant begins to think it is a “boy who cried wolf” thing and not really believe anyone. That said, it does have some suggestions and caveats for people with real allergies.

Overseas, if you stick to higher-end restaurants that cater to tourists, you will probably be okay. For Italy, see also:

and other sites found by googling {nut allergies in Italy}.

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Traveling with a serious food allergy creates anxiety and rightly so. I don’t know if there is a fool proof solution just like there isn’t when eating even here in the US. My friend who has a couple serious food allergies (nuts and seafood) is able to travel and live around the world and get by, so it can be done. She does travel with some type of snack filler with her so that if she ends up at a restaurant where she doesn’t feel comfortable (or trust they understand the seriousness) she has something to eat while others have their meal, and then we find a grocery store to get something safe for her to eat. I would highly recommend that.

(She always asks for pizza to be “uncut” to avoid cross-contamination too - always a good trick).

That said, she now lives in Madrid and speaks virtually no Spanish. We went to two different restaurants while we were there that when we explained she has food allergies they brought out a “special menu” that listed the allergens in all the menu items. I was shocked that they had this and we were NOT in a tourist area or restaurant at all. They were nicer restaurants however.

I think most people understand food allergies at this point, even overseas. I think you might be surprised how effective a translated card to hand to servers (or a manager before being seated) and a flash of an epipen can be.

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Thanks everyone. I really appreciate the information and the caring you’ve shown. It’s sometimes easier just to say “stay home” and “don’t eat out at all” and at various points I’ve heard comments like that from folks. It’s disheartening. We’ve managed to get this one to almost 14 with only a few bumps along the road foodwise and look forward to showing him what a grand beautiful world he lives in.


And if you do actually include England, then please don’t just stay in London, like most tourists. Get out and see something of the rest of our country.


Oh and one other “tip” from my friend with the allergies. She doesn’t leave grey areas with her allergies when traveling.

So she is allergic to ALL nuts when traveling, when in reality there are a few she can eat. I’d suggest the same when traveling overseas, that way there isn’t room for error - either on your part with translations or on their part with interpretation. Do you really want to try to explain the difference between tree nuts and other nuts . . . . just no nuts period unless you have great communication with the staff maybe.

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The special menu with allergens listed is part of the relatively new EU laws which require certain allergens to be listed by restaurants. It doesn’t mean every menu will list allergens but it means a restaurant must be able to do so if asked.

That said, the obvious out for many places is to say " dishes may contain…" rather than list them. Also EU rules are implemented and policed differently in the member countries. As an example the UK has always complained EU laws were applied rigorously by UK authorities but the Mediterranean countries had a far more laissez-faire approach.

I myself am allergic to quite a few tree nuts (walnuts especially) and have travelled and eaten well at local places. Most of the time its simple to avoid nuts in dishes because a lot of preparations are quite traditional and the ingredients don’t change i.e. pesto etc. That said Italy never struck me as a particular nutty cuisine, although I did have a close call with a creamy, walnut laden pasta once.

My advice is to seek out allergy cards from one of the numerous allergy support organisation, I am pretty certain they do them in many languages.

I also suggest eating local food and not tourist food (counter to other advice), I always feel its better to have a kitchen where the people who cook the dishes make them from scratch rather than many of the low quality tourist places that often buy in the food ready made (even in cute tourist towns in the middle of nowhere - if they can get beer delivered they can get frozen food).

Depending on how severe the allergies are it can be sensible to have some Epipens and also to travel to areas with reasonable medical facilities (which will include most popular destinations these days).


I think your final paragraph/line is important. There may be places where one might not want to seek medical care - emergency medical care.

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We take our epipens everywhere there might be any traces of food at all. The library, school, friends houses, grocery store. In fact, I can’t think of when we go anywhere without taking them, except maybe a walk or drive.

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Please include nut liqueurs - Amaretto comes to mind first - in your list of forbidden foods. We had a very scary situation here with someone who did not know that Amaretto was nut-based. Epipen to the rescue!


hey I just joined can you tell me how the trip went and if you had any other problems while traveling

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