I lived in Italy for three years and consider it my European home. Returning after five was the reunion that I had been missing. I hadn’t made visiting a priority, since I enjoy exploring new places. However, with my return I was jolted back into amore with this country, remembering why I greatly missed la dolce vita.
Back when I lived in Italy, I rarely had food allergy challenges. Certainly there were foods that I knew I couldn’t eat but overall it was a much easier place to live. I was rarely, if ever, turned down at a restaurant. Living in the U.S., I had dealt with that my entire life. In Italy, they were always willing to work with me to find something safe. I felt spoiled being able to eat out so often with such ease.
In the last five years allergen awareness has only increased in Italy. Here are five main takeaways from my recent trip.
Takeaway #1: Labeling Improvements
EU laws have been established that require labeling foods that contain the top 14 allergens. Packaged foods in the grocery store now have clearer labeling. There are even some shared facilities, product lines, or may contain warnings. Just like in the U.S. though, they are not required to give these warnings. However, there is definitely an increase of packaged foods that have them.
Takeaway #2: Allergen Menu Additions
In Italy, menus have been adapted, sometimes even with symbols to show which dishes contain which top allergens. On the first page of most menus there is an allergen notice about the top 14 allergens. Some restaurants also include information about what they use in their bread or dough, for example. When I was living in Italy, this did not exist. I never once saw anything like this because it was not a requirement. This is a huge step and even though it doesn’t mean every restaurant can safely serve customers with allergies, it does mean they have at least seen what the top allergens are and have more understanding than they once did about food allergies.
Takeaway #3: Greater General Awareness
People seem more knowledgeable about the existence of food allergies and the severity. When I went out for a gelato, I explained my allergies to the woman that was helping me. She then told me that she understood how serious it was because her friend’s son had a nut allergy. After three years of living in Italy, I only remember one student having a nut allergy. I never knew anyone else with any allergies when I lived in Italy and no one ever told me stories about other people they knew that had food allergies. Although allergies are still not prevalent in Italy like they are in the U.S., they have increased.
Takeaway #4: More Gluten and Dairy Free Options
I was happily surprised for my dairy and gluten free friends that there was an entire row of packaged options for you! This includes crackers, cookies, chocolate, and more. I also did see a few milk alternatives, like soy and rice milk. From what I could tell at the store, it seems like gluten and dairy allergies have the most safe packaged options at this time. Maybe that is a reflection of more people avoiding those allergens? That would be my guess anyway.
Takeaway #5: Still No Safe Chocolate… But Hey… They Know Allergies Exist
If you read my blog or follow my Instagram, you know that I have a giant sweet tooth! Well, Italy is still not sweet tooth friendly unfortunately. Those of us with peanut and tree nut allergies are not going to easily find any safe sweets. Unfortunately, this includes packaged ice cream. In multiple grocery stores I could not find one single ice cream that was safe. Non bene! I remain hopeful that in five years, this too will have changed (if not sooner).
All in all, I’m excited about these improvements! I appreciate anywhere that shows greater food allergy awareness, whether it is by law or by choice.
Where have you been impressed by food allergy awareness? To see more of my food allergy friendly Italy pics, make sure to follow me on Instagram!