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Child with food allergies in Germany

Child with food allergies in Germany

Old May 13, 10, 6:52 pm
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Child with food allergies in Germany

I'll be traveling in Germany and Austria (and in Paris) with my son, who is 5 years old and has severe allergies to nuts, raw eggs (cooked eggs are okay), larger amounts of soy (small amounts of soy lecithin, for instance, cooked into some foods, are okay) and, we think, sesame seeds and oil. How does the German culture's awareness of / sensitivity to food allergies compare with that in the U.S.? I know some German, and I'm beginning to learn the vocabulary of asking about ingredients and asking for emergency help, but are there any idiomatic phrases I'd need to know? We'll have our epinephrine with us, and I'm sure I can assume i would be available at any hospital, but in towns too small for a hospital, are we likely to find clinics that would be a good substitute in a pinch? Seems like a stupid question for someone like me, who has lived in Germany and traveled there pretty extensively, but I've never had to consider these things before. Is there a 911-type emergency number I can dial in Germany and/or Austria (and/or Paris)?
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Old May 13, 10, 7:12 pm
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Generally Germans are not so aware and caring for food difficulties like Americans are. Well, let me say it this way: they are not extra careful and the waiter is not going to tell you just to be cautious, oh, a nut cake contains nuts. It is the responsibility of the person with allergies to specifically ask or tell that he/she has an allergy. Then, everybody will tell you if there is a potential problem and they will check what specific food contains.

If your kid is not a picky eater, there will always be something on the menu that is eatable without conflicting the allergies.

All hospitals are fully capable to deal with issues, it's just that in the rural area are less than in big cities (obviously).

The German number to call an ambulance is 112.

Most Germany, especially the younger generation and in bigger cities understand English just fine. Just don't do the mistake and talk as fast as you are used to at home, use simple words and maybe avoid any heavy accent. I experience it a lot that Americans don't make a difference whether they talk to a countrymen or to a foreigner but expect the same level of understanding.
Many Germans will also be capable to answer you.

A couple of words:

nuts = Nuss / Nüsse (singular, plural)
soy = Soya
allergy = Allergie
raw egg = rohes Ei
cooked egg = gekochtes Ei
hospital = Krankenhaus
emergency = Notfall

I doubt you will encounter huge difficulties. This is speaking for Germany, I can't really tell on Austria and France. I expect these places to be a little more difficult though because their level of English is typically not as high.
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Old May 14, 10, 12:03 pm
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Europe is pretty well covered by Hospitals and Emergency Services. The general Emergency Number in Europe when using a cell phone is 112.

The emergency number in Germany is 112, in France it is either 15 or 112 and in Austria it is 144 but 112 works, too but you will be connected with the police which then of course can inform an ambulance. So best just to remember 112.

In general packed food is now labeled if it could contain nuts, traces of nuts or other allergy causing substances or at least trace of nuts. Normally you find it in the fine print on the package. When eating out it is your responsibility to make sure you tell the restaurant if you have an allergy. Also expect coffee to be hot even if it does not say so on the mug.

By the way it always helps not to expect anyone to speak your language in a foreign country. Even with English widely teached in Europe take your time and learn at least some basic words and sentence. It will be widely appreciated and seen as a gesture of good will and people will suddenly be much friendlier.
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Old May 14, 10, 3:21 pm
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112 works everywhere in Europe - it's the pan-European emergency number.

In addition to working everywhere in Europe it also works from GSM cellphones everywhere else in the world (including the USA). The GSM system translates 112 into whatever the local number happens to be (e.g. 911 in the USA).

If you have a GSM phone 112 is the only emergency number you ever need to know.
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Old May 14, 10, 7:26 pm
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I agree with everything that the above three have noted. Nut allergies are definitely not as widespread or commonly known, and one is expected to take responsibility oneself. Don't expect to find things labelled in quite the same way as in America. Since OP asked about cultural differences, I will agree with Masterphil and say that one is definitely expected to take responsibility for oneself, and that there really isn't as much incidence and thus awareness of food allergies in Germany as in America.

And as noted, please remember that in many areas 'American' English is not so easily understood. Not only is the accent different, but the actual words in the vocubulary are quite different. I myself speak differently when in America than I do when in the UK (or almost anywhere else in the world where English is generally well understood). While you may be coming to a corner of the country somewhat still populated with Americans and still somewhat geared towards Americans, it is also still a very rural area and you may well encounter people who do not speak English, or very little.

I don't think that it is quite so different anymore, but years ago the ingredients in Austria vs Germany were quite different on many packaged goods (similar to Germany vs America) In fact, many Austrians would cross the border to purchase the German version of certain products as a result. But with EU regulations I don't think that the differences are as widespread and labelling is generally much more consistent.

Here is a thread from a few years ago which may be of some use http://www.flyertalk.com/forum/germa...t-airport.html

Hazelnuts are far more common than peanuts; in fact peanuts are still considered mostly a savoury item and are still somewhat rare in sweets such as chocolate bars. Hazelnuts are almost the equivalent to peanuts in America ie you would find those much more commonly in sweet foods.

If you are flying, the Anapen site has a form you can fill out for use at the airport. It may never be requested, but it is good to have on hand. http://www.anapen.de/AttestFlughafen.pdf Since it is an explanation in both German and English, it can also be helpful if you do need emergency services. I know from first hand experience that stress of a medical emergency can make one forget key vocabulary items; this happened to me in France awhile back even though I am very comfortable with the language.

For France, I would avoid baked goods, frankly. The flour contains lupine flour so if a nut allergy, this is maybe something you should avoid altogether, but you would know best. http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/624177

Last edited by exbayern; May 14, 10 at 7:39 pm
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Old May 15, 10, 6:00 am
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If you are used to US standards of allery awareness you will be highly disappointed in Germany. For unknown reasons, food allergies are not really "that popular" in Germany. Furthermore, we are by far more used to fresh home cooking, so if you have an allergy, you might have a tendency to avoid restaurants or certain types of restaurants. In a normal German restaurant you will hardly find the hint "might contain traces of nuts" or similar....

Regarding 911: 112 will do the trick (almost?) all over Europe
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Old May 15, 10, 10:57 am
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Originally Posted by Flying Lawyer View Post
In a normal German restaurant you will hardly find the hint "might contain traces of nuts" or similar....
Or the warning on packaged products 'may be produced in a facility which may contain nuts' etc such as I find on things which are normally nut-free, such as licorice, in America.

However, I am looking at the Corny Free Haselnuss bar on my desk, and it does say 'Müsliriegel mit Haselnüssen 10% und Süßungsmittel' on the back. I do believe however that is a clarification of the product itself and not the actual warning about nut contents (because it is quite obvious that a granola bar called Hazelnut/Nut will contain hazelnuts, and the picture on the front shows Hazelnuts)
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Old May 16, 10, 1:38 pm
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Thanks to all for the advice. But special thanks to ExBayern for the info about Lupin flour in France. I don't know if my son's allergic to Lupin, but it's a risk I would have completely missed without your link (btw, I'm a fan of Chowhound, too - been led astray once or twice, but it's still more reliable for my tastes than any other restaurant review site I've found).

And the other FT thread you linked discusses marzipan. I might have missed that, too. I know it's made from almonds, but easily might not have made the connection until too late. And the fact that it could be a dessert component means that the servers and preparers might very well miss the connection, too (thinking of it as "marzipan" rather than "nuts"). I wonder if there are any other such intermediate products that might similarly hide a nut content.

Even in the U.S., we definitely take responsibility ourselves for this, not relying on posted notices at restaurants, etc., but the knowledge that allergies like this are not as well-recognized in Germany means that we'll have to add an extra layer of skepticism to our efforts. I'm grateful to know that in advance.

I think I'll be okay with the language thing, though. My German's not too bad. Unless, as with one other poster, the stress of a medical emergency scrambles my vocabulary.

Incidentally, we've had my son in Germany once already, and another time in Paris, without any anaphylactic reactions. But that was before he ate a cashew nut and went to the hospital last year. In Paris, previously, we even got Nutella crepes for everyone, and when he refused to eat his, we actually made him take a bite, assuming he was just being picky and we didn't want him to miss one of the greatest tastes in the world. I was amazed that he didn't like it. At the time I thought it was one of the most bizarre examples of pickiness I'd ever encountered. But now of course we know what the problem was.
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Old May 25, 10, 12:48 am
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Thanks to everyone for offering all this great information. I've got two out three of the allergies the OP's son has (soy and eggs), so I've also been worrying about what I would encounter during my 6 weeks in Germany this summer...

Additionally, can anyone who's lived/living in Germany tell me anything about what vegetable oil gets used a lot over there? Over here it's often soy (I think I read on Wikipedia that a whopping 80% of America's "veggie" oil is soy--probably because of the crops subsidies), so every time I go out to eat I have to insist that the restaurant check "Which type?" when they tell me "You'll be fine--we don't use soy anything, and we just use pure vegetable oil!" So, really I'm just asking, do you folks in Germany find that most of the time"vegetable" oil usually equals soybean oil over there too? I know I usually don't have to worry at fancy places, which wouldn't think of using anything less than olive oil unless they needed something with a higher flash point, but I'll be on a budget, and over here cheap restaurants' reliance on soy usually make me sick...
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Old May 25, 10, 7:30 am
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My son is allergic against egg (badly; in all forms), nuts and to some extent milk. Since we moved here in winter its been pretty good so far. If you mention that he is 'severely allergic against...' (er hat eine schwere allergie gegen...) the service staff usually listens, mainly because they want to avoid trouble I guess. They check with the chef, who usually cooks up something special. A 2 1/2 yr old is easy to please, so it works out ok.

Sadly a nut and egg allergy pretty much rules out all desserts, including cakes and pastries. The reason here is that pastry chefs don't follow strict allergen removal rules so everything is cross contaminated. I found this out the bad way (just a rash, no epi pen needed). Beware of crossiants, they are often brushed with egg whites to get a better gloss.

The usual cheap cooking oil in Germany is rapsöl or rapeseed oil or canola oil as the americans call it, followed closely by sunflower oil. Peanut or corn based cooking medium is not so common. Margerine (shortening) used in some cooking, usually doesn't contain any nut oil.

Unlike the US, there is a major industry serving people with actual or imagined allergies with premium products. My wife can quickly spend a substantial amount of money at the Reformhaus on allergen free staple groceries. At normal grocery stores, you spent quite a bit on reading the fine print. Especially egg is is a tough read as the phrase ei is tough to catch in tiny print. 'Eiweiss/Eiweiß' (german for protein) is not to be confused with albumen.

There is a good website that explains what is in grocery items in Germany. http://das-ist-drin.de You can just enter the UPC / EAN code and get a good readable summary with allergy warning indicators for most brands.
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Old May 25, 10, 11:51 am
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oliver2002, Thank you for that additional information. Very timely as we leave tomorrow!
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Old Jun 9, 10, 1:09 pm
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Just to report back: We've returned to the trip, and thanks in part to the advice offered here, I'm happy to report that we had a wonderful time, with no need for epi-pens or hospital visits at all!
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Old Aug 15, 11, 7:51 am
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The Epipen UK website has some handy phrase sheets in various languages (albeit somewhat limited, but it covers the basics)

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Old Aug 21, 11, 11:53 pm
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I think the general awareness of really serious allergies is indeed lower in Germany or even all of Europe. I mean, people have allergies, too, but not so heavily that it can kill them. That seems to be more widely spread in America, although my own Swiss grandmother had a severe allergy to strawberries. One bite meant a trip to the hospital. She never carried an epi-pen, though.

It is thus important to stress that a severe allergy is really a severe allergy with likely medical consequences not just a little rash or burning mouth. This way people will take it seriously and be much more sympathetic. Otherwise they might just think it's another case of difficult Americans.

I'm glad the OP's trip went without incident. Passing up pastry in France is a severe impediment, I'd say.

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Old Aug 27, 11, 11:49 pm
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I've traveled with my food allergic child for almost twenty years to Germany, Spain and France. In the early days, food labeling was iffy and inconsistent in these countries. Labels have become much more reliable, detailed and uniform in the EU and awareness has also increased. For my kid (nut allergies) chocolate was the treacherous food, including all pastries with chocolate creme, chocolate ice creams etc. -- often mixed with hazelnut paste. Nowadays restaurants and food store personnel are more informed and better able to answer questions. It's still a good idea to be able to communicate well in the host country language about this issue and, if the allergies are complicated, to rent an apt. and cook much of your own food. We saved money, heartache and trips to the Dr. that way and enjoyed ourselves tremendously.
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