Wondering what to serve for dinner tonight? If you don't have time to cook, the convenience of visiting a fast food restaurant can be tempting, especially with the nutritious options some establishments have added to their menus.

Yet for people who suffer from fast food allergies, the dangers of eating out may be more than they can stomach. Common concerns range from uncertainty about what ingredients are contained in menu items to worry about the potential for cross contamination occurring during food preparation.

A Widespread Problem

According to the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network (FAAN), one out of every 25 Americans is diagnosed with a food allergy,. If you fall into this group, you know first-hand how the immune system reacts when exposed to your triggers, which can include milk, egg, peanut, tree nut, fish, shellfish, soy and wheat. Food allergies can cause mild symptoms like itching, hives or a rash, or you could find yourself struggling with a more serious reaction such as wheezing, difficulty breathing, swelling of lips, tongue and throat—and even loss of consciousness. (If you experience anaphylaxis, this is a life threatening reaction that requires immediate treatment.)

Survey Results

Many people with food allergies go to great lengths to avoid putting themselves at risk. In fact, a study conducted by the Mt. Sinai School of Medicine in New York that was presented at the American Allergy, Asthma and Immunology's 2008 Annual Meeting revealed that 20 percent of respondents with food allergies steer clear of fast food chains entirely. Driving this decision for some is the fact that they have experienced restaurant reactions in the past.

Get the Facts

What the survey also found is that some respondents weren't aware that well-known fast food restaurants and other popular chain establishments provide a detailed analysis of their menus, ingredients and nutritional values. You can find the information on the restaurant's website or call the individual company directly to request a copy. These facts can help some people with food allergies to navigate convenience foods safely.

Food for Thought

The experts also point out that contrary to what you might think, there is actually some level of control when you eat at a fast food restaurant, since the food preparation is automated so you will know what to expect. This can serve as an advantage over smaller, individually-owned restaurants that might vary how they do things day to day. Therefore, if there are fast food menu items that you can tolerate, you may be able to eat in some convenience restaurants without putting yourself in harm's way.

Proceed Cautiously

If you do think it's safe to visit a fast food restaurant, the experts stress proceeding with caution much as you would anywhere else. For instance, tell servers about your fast food allergy up front and ask for special attention to be paid to your food preparation. Also always carry an epi-pen, which is a form of medication that can be used in case of a serious reaction.

Handling Your Safety

While what you eat is clearly important, there is one other area of concern for people with a fast food allergy. In rare cases, patrons with a latex allergy have experienced a reaction to the latex protein contained on the food handler's glove. This can be transferred to some foods and can pose a serious problem for people who are highly sensitive.  


American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (AAAAI)



American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI)


Food and Drug Administration (FDA)