Don’t let your child’s food allergies keep them from the fun experiences traveling provides. You’ll need to plan ahead to keep your child or children safe, but the extra planning is well worth giving them a new adventure. Here are our top tips for keeping your food allergic children safe when you travel, including tips for flying with food allergies.
When one or more of your kids has food allergies, you might think that traveling is a daunting task, given all the food risks that come with new environments. But don’t let your child’s food allergies keep them from the fun experiences traveling provides (there’s plenty more to adventuring than food). You’ll need to plan ahead to keep your child or children safe, but the extra planning is well worth giving them a new adventure. Plus, kids with food allergies can learn plenty of management and independence skills through the travel experience! Here are our top tips for keeping food allergic children safe when you travel, including tips for flying with food allergies.
Top 10 Tips For All Travel With Food Allergies
Whether you’re driving your child to the destination, or your child will be boarding a train, bus, boat, or plane, these essential tips will help your child see the world safely.
1. Research first before choosing a destination.
Choose a destination where you have access to safe foods, whether that’s through restaurants with allergen-free options, through a kitchen within your accommodation where you can prepare safe meals, or both. Your destination should also have relatively easy access to a hospital, in case of an emergency. And you should know who to contact – and how to contact them – if an emergency does occur.
If an international destination uses your child’s allergens heavily in their cuisine (including in groceries) and you can’t easily transport enough of your own safe foods, it’s best to rule out that area.
Keep in mind that a language barrier isn’t an issue, as long as you have a way to tell people about your child’s allergies in the language they speak (think translated info or Google Translate tools; more on this below).
2. Screen restaurants for your destination in advance, just like you already do when eating out locally.
Check the menus in advance; some restaurants will make allergen info available online along with their menus.
It might also be helpful to look for restaurant reviews left by people in the food allergy community. Some sites, like AllergyEats, even let you filter reviews of restaurants based on your child’s allergy needs.
If you have any questions about menu items or food preparation methods, it’s a good idea to call the restaurant beforehand. Ask about any questionable ingredients, shared food preparation equipment, and what steps the restaurant takes to protect against cross-contamination. If you're traveling domestically, you'll be able to make this call before your trip even begins.
3. Screen grocery stores as well, if you can.
Do nearby stores offer safe versions of common foods you normally eat at home? Having safe grocery options is essential if you’re traveling somewhere that doesn’t seem to have many safe restaurants, and if you can’t bring and store enough safe staples from home.
Also, if you're going abroad, what are the allergen labeling laws for groceries in the country you want to visit? Some countries have labeling laws that are not as strict as in the US.
4. Always bring at least two EpiPens (epinephrine auto-injectors) on your trip.
Epinephrine is the only medicine that can stop a life-threatening allergic reaction, so it’s extremely important to have enough EpiPens on hand, in a place you can easily access. EpiPens should always be on your person or your child’s person (not packed away somewhere you can’t reach them), no matter where you are in your travels.
Carrying at least two EpiPens is vital in case your child would have a biphasic reaction – a reaction where the symptoms go away after you use the first EpiPen, but then return and require another injection. Also, make sure that the EpiPens are not expired, and won’t expire while you travel.
5. Properly store your child’s EpiPens.
EpiPens will only function properly if they’re stored at room temperature. If they get too hot, there’s a risk that they won’t work in an emergency. On hot days, make sure your child’s EpiPens are stored in an insulated bag or case – this will help regulate the epinephrine’s temperature. Never leave EpiPens in a car, as parked cars can quickly overheat. And never use ice packs, a fridge, or a freezer to chill epinephrine, as this may make your child’s EpiPens too cold.
6. Prepare other medical supplies and information.
In addition to the EpiPens, you should bring the following medical supplies with you in case of an emergency. Bring them no matter how close or how far your destination is:
- Other medications
- Your health insurance card
- Prescriptions for the epinephrine, in case you need more than you’ve packed
- Your child’s Food Allergy Emergency Care Plan – bring extra copies, and bring a translation in the area’s language if English is not a common language
- If you wish, a medical alert bracelet for your child to wear, to notify others of their allergy
- Phone numbers for your child’s allergist, for your child's pediatrician, and for medical care in the area.
You'll also want to speak with your pediatrician and allergist to let them know you're traveling, and to decide on the best way to reach them in case of an emergency.
7. Pack safe foods.
Whether you have a delayed flight, a long car ride, or your child just needs a snack, be sure to pack plenty of food that you trust is safe to give your child. Follow this rule used by some food allergy families and shared on Zestfull: only pack foods your child has safely eaten at least three times. If your trip is longer, consider packing safe (nonperishable) staple foods like safe bread, cereal, or pasta.
Pro Tip: If you choose an accommodation with a full kitchen, or at least a fridge and microwave, this will give you even more flexibility to pack and prepare safe meals and snacks for your child(ren).
8. Prepare cleaning and protective supplies.
It’s also helpful to pack plenty of wet wipes. Use these to wipe down areas where food is served and eaten, including your seating area if you choose to use public transportation. A washable seat cover and tray table cover can provide added barriers on public transportation.
9. Communicate, communicate, communicate.
To keep your child as safe as possible, tell everyone who assists you or serves you about your child’s allergy in advance. This includes the staff at your accommodations, the restaurants you visit, and the airline you travel on (if applicable). Explain the severity of the allergy, the importance of avoiding even trace amounts of the allergen, and the dangers of cross-contamination.
It helps to give these people plenty of time for preparation and cleaning before your trip. The more prepared they are to accommodate you, the greater the chances that they’ll take all your child’s needs into consideration. So, alert them as far in advance as you can.
Pro Tip: It may be safest to eat at restaurants during the least busy hours. When they aren’t the busiest, it will be easier for chefs and waitstaff to keep track of how your child’s food is prepared.
10. Bring and hand out allergy information cards.
Allergy information cards (sometimes called chef cards) are a great resource to give waiters, chefs, and anyone else who needs your child’s allergy information (including hotel staff and transportation staff).
- These cards outline that your child has a life-threatening food allergy.
- They state that your child must avoid all foods that contain their allergen(s), or else they may have a severe allergic reaction and require medical attention.
- They warn food preparers to avoid cross-contact with your child’s allergen(s).
- They also ask for anything that may have come in contact with your child’s allergen(s), including equipment used to prepare food, to be thoroughly cleaned.
Pro Tip: If you’re traveling to a country where English is not the primary language, it’s essential to bring copies of these cards both in English and translated into the primary language of the area. That way, it’s easier to communicate your child’s allergy needs and keep your child safe, even when faced with a language barrier. One source for professionally translated allergy information cards is Equal Eats.
7 More Tips For Flying With Food Allergies
A trip in the air might seem like the most daunting travel choice for a food allergy family, as you’re in an enclosed space with fewer medical care options. But people with severe food allergies safely fly all the time! It all comes down to being prepared, and taking the necessary safety precautions before and while your child flies.
1. Choose an airline with an allergy policy you trust.
Some airlines will let food allergy families pre-board, so you can thoroughly clean your seating area before the flight. (As long as you declare your child’s allergy in advance, you have a right to pre-board for this purpose if you’re traveling within the US. This is because food allergies are considered a disability under the Air Carrier Access Act.)
Other airlines create “buffer zones” where the people within a certain radius of a person with an allergy are asked not to eat foods containing the allergen. But other airlines don’t have any specific allergy-friendly policies in place.
Also, if your child has a peanut or tree nut allergy, keep in mind that nuts are a popular snack that several airlines serve. You’ll want to choose an airline that doesn’t serve these nuts at snack time – or an airline that says they’ll serve a nut-free snack if you mention your child’s allergy in advance.
Keep in mind that no airline can guarantee a completely allergen-free flight, because they can’t fully control how other passengers behave and what foods they bring onboard.
2. Consider the earliest flights.
Many airlines clean planes overnight. So, picking the earliest-morning flight may mean you have the cleanest flight, with the smallest amount of food residue left behind.
3. Always notify the airline of your child’s allergy in advance.
Many airlines have space to include medical information, including food allergy information, when you book your flight. You should also call the airline and notify them of your child’s allergy, regardless of whether there’s space to input this info online.
As Food Allergy Research and Education (FARE) advises, it’s best to “request that your information be forwarded to other personnel such as the gate agent, catering/food service and flight crew.”
This way, airlines will be able to swap out snacks to reduce chances of exposure, create buffer zones, and/or make announcements that there is a passenger with an allergy to help keep your child safe.
Plus, when you notify the airline in advance, you'll also be able to ask for pre-boarding time if needed.
4. Bring cleaning and protective supplies, and clean your space.
It’s essential to bring plenty of wet wipes on a flight, so you or another trusted adult can wipe down your family’s seats, tray tables, seat belts, armrests, and other parts of your seating area before your child sits down. This will help reduce the risk of cross-contact with food particles left behind from previous flights.
Remove any blankets or pillows that the airline gives you, as they could also contain allergen particles – they aren't cleaned often.
You may also consider having your child sit on a washable seat protector during the flight, giving them a reusable tray table cover that you can wipe, or both. Zestfull also recommends packing gloves, in case your child needs to use the restroom in-flight. This way, they will be less likely to directly touch a surface that may contain their allergen(s).
Pro Tip: Looking for another way to create a barrier? Choose a window seat for your food allergic child, and select the adjacent seats for yourself and other family members.
5. Carry your child’s EpiPens with you on the flight, in case of an emergency.
Don’t put the EpiPens in checked luggage, where you can’t access them. And don’t store them in any bag that you plan to place in the overhead bin, either. Always store EpiPens where they will be within arm’s reach during the flight, along with any other medications your child might need. The TSA allows epinephrine and other medications to stay with you when you fly. But they may want to see the prescription and medication label, so keep these with the EpiPens.
6. Notify airport security of your child's allergy needs.
When you go through security, you’ll need to declare your child’s EpiPens (and other liquid medications) if you’re bringing more than 3.4 ounces onboard a flight. Mention your child’s allergy when you declare these important medications. As stated above, they might want to see your child’s prescription or other documentation to prove your child’s medical need, so have these documents on hand as well.
According to FARE, it’s best to pass the EpiPens through the x-ray machine, instead of letting a TSA officer touch the device for inspection. This way, there’s less of a chance that the officer could accidentally activate the EpiPen, rendering it useless. X-ray machines’ radiation won’t damage or reduce the effectiveness of the epinephrine.
7. Bring safe snacks onboard the flight.
Don’t plan to eat anything served by the airline during your flight, since most of the foods don’t have a label to check and since you won’t know if there was cross-contamination. Also, don’t buy any food or snacks at the airport, unless you find a prepackaged snack your child has safely eaten with a label you can read.
Instead, bring your own safe foods and snacks. The TSA allows you to carry any amount of safe foods onto a flight, as long as they are considered solids and not liquids. (You can only bring 3.4 ounces or less of your own “liquid foods” on a flight, in line with TSA rules about other non-medicine liquids.)
As for water, bring your own empty, reusable water bottles through security. Once you’ve made it through security, wipe down the water fountain with the wipes you brought, and then fill up your bottles. That way, you won’t have to worry about trace allergens on drinks bought at the airport.
If you’re traveling internationally, be sure to read up on what foods can and can’t be brought into the countries you’re visiting as well.
Pro Tip: Pack extra food and snacks in case your flight is delayed!
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