Ireland is known for its rolling green hills, breathtaking cities like Dublin, castles, and culturally rich small towns that dot the countryside. These are just a few of the many reasons that Ireland attracts travelers each year. Ireland isn’t just known for its stunning landscapes and rich history, but also for its delicious cuisine and bustling pubs. If you are embarking on an adventure to Ireland with food allergies, it will require extra preparation and research, but rest assured, you can create a memorable experience while remaining diligent. Read on to learn how to prepare to travel to Ireland with food allergies confidently!
Navigating Ireland With Food Allergies
Over the past several years, Ireland has made great strides when it comes to accommodating food allergies. While the Health Service Executive (HSE) requires restaurants to label their menus with the top 14 allergens, you will commonly find that restaurants don’t use the same numbers per allergen across the board. Be careful when checking for allergens at different restaurants. For example, peanuts may be a #3 at one restaurant and #6 at another.
While the labeling laws are helpful, they do not take the place of doing diligent pre-travel restaurant research to ensure there are food options available and cross-contamination protocols are being followed in the kitchen.
Plus, when you are traveling by train or car through the Irish countryside, having an idea of where restaurants are that have been pre-researched will make you feel more confident and ensure you don’t end up hungry and unsure where to go. The last thing you want after a day of exploring is to wind up starving and uneasy of which restaurants can accommodate your allergies. I always recommend packing plenty of water and safe snacks on your day trips and adventures for that reason.
With these labeling protocols in place, you’ll find restaurants that are understanding and educated about allergies, but you will still find some that label the menus and don’t understand cross-contamination or the dangers of it. There are even some restaurants that do not label their menus and just have an allergen menu by request due to the changing daily menus. During the research phase, ask about these menus. It may also be helpful to call and confirm what is on the special menu and what allergens are present before you arrive.
Food Labeling Laws in Ireland
As mentioned above, restaurants in Ireland are required by the Food Safety Authority of Ireland to label their menus with the top 14 allergens.
These allergens are:
- Cereals containing gluten – wheat (such as spelt and Khorasan wheat), rye, barley, and oats.
- Crustaceans – crabs, prawns, and lobsters.
- Nuts (almonds, hazelnuts, walnuts, cashews, pecans, brazil nuts, pistachios, macadamia nuts).
- Sesame seeds.
- Sulphur dioxide and sulphites (at concentrations of more than 10mg/kg or 10mg/L) – used as a preservative.
- Molluscs – mussels, oysters, squid, and snails.
When labeling items with gluten or nuts, they must list the specific source. For example, the menu must read “contains barley” as opposed to “contains gluten.”
Similar to other European Union countries, Ireland must also label these allergens on pre-packaged foods with a clear list of allergens included in the food.
For non-prepackaged foods, food businesses are required to indicate the allergens in writing wherever the good is presented, sold, or supplied.
These foods include items in loose form, such as those sold in restaurants, delis, pubs, butcher shops, etc. It also applies to foods packed on the premises at the request of the consumer or for direct sale to the consumer.
Irish law requires all allergen information to be in written form in English and easy to locate. While it is required to be presented in English, it’s never a bad idea to be over prepared and bring your food allergy chef card with you.
What Can You NOT Bring Into Ireland?
When traveling overseas to Ireland with food allergies, you may want to bring some of your own ingredients and snacks, especially if you plan to stay in your own accommodation such as an Airbnb or a hotel with a kitchenette.
The laws regarding what you can and can’t legally bring into Ireland are similar to other European Union countries. The biggest restrictions apply to foods of animal origin, except for a small list of items.
These restricted animal products apply to meat products from countries outside of the EU, certain fish and seafood products, certain dairy products, and products containing GMOs. Plants and plant products are also limited, so it’s important to check the regulations before traveling to Ireland with food allergies.
Importation Guidelines In Ireland and What You CAN Bring
You can legally bring in certain foods that are not of animal origin, such as nuts, fruit, cereals, spices, etc. These do require checks on import. You can learn more about these import controls and the amounts allowed in EU Regulation 2019/1793. These imported food items must be intended for personal use or consumption only. If you have food items that do not comply with the rules for personal imports or are not intended for personal consumption, you must register as a food importer.
As mentioned above, there is a small list of food items of animal origin that are allowed into Ireland.
- Meat, milk, and their products from certain countries such as the Faroe Islands, Greenland, or Iceland, with a combined weight less than 10kg.
- Powdered infant milk, infant food, and special foods or special pet feed that is required for medical purposes, that weigh less than 2kg. These must not require refrigeration before opening and come in sealed packages.
- Fish products, including certain shellfish such as prawns, lobsters, dead mussels, and dead oysters, with a combined quantity of less than 20 kg.There is no weight restriction for fish products coming from the Faroe Islands or Greenland.
- Other animal products, such as honey, live oysters, live mussels, and snails, up to 2 kg.
Most non-perishable snacks and pre-packaged food items are allowed, just make sure to double-check the regulations before leaving for your trip.
Exploring the Local Cuisine of Ireland
Traditional Irish food is simple yet hearty and delicious. There is a lot of farm-to-table cooking, allowing you to ask more questions about the ingredients and cross-contamination possibilities.
Bread and potatoes are key ingredients in many dishes, but you can often find gluten-free bread options throughout Ireland. Make sure to do your research ahead of time or work with me through my restaurant research service to verify which restaurants provide gluten-free options if that is an allergen for you.
Some of Ireland’s most traditional and tasty dishes are:
- Irish Stew – This is a popular dish in Ireland that brings comfort and warmth in the colder months, especially. This dish is made with beef, potatoes, and root vegetables as the base. While the ingredients are pretty basic, it’s important to ask about seasonings and any possible add-ins to ensure it does not contain your allergens.
- Shepherd’s Pie – Shepherd’s Pie is another well-known, hearty Irish dish. It is made with a layer of ground beef or lamb, followed by a layer of vegetables, with a layer of whipped or mashed potatoes on top. It is then baked to create a delicious, warm dish. Make sure to ask how the potatoes are prepared, as dairy products like milk or butter may be used.
- Black and White Pudding – Have you ever heard of this dish? This is likely not the pudding you are thinking of. It is not a sweet pudding, but instead, is made with a type of sausage. The name is based on how it is made, with blood or not. Black pudding is a purplish-red color made with blood, while white pudding is not. You’ll find black pudding more commonly, especially at breakfast time.
- Fish and Seafood – Fish and seafood dishes are common in Ireland, especially in items like Fish and Chips, chowders, fish tacos, and more.
- As for dessert, in Ireland you will find a lot of Guinness Chocolate Mousse, Irish Whisky Truffles, Irish Cream Brownies, and more. There are ice cream shops throughout Ireland as well. Therefore, make sure you do your research on items containing dairy products and double-check on any nut allergens.
Food Allergies in Ireland
When traveling Ireland with food allergies, the menus being labeled is helpful, but it does not guarantee your complete knowledge of food allergies. However, it does allow you to start the conversation about a specific menu item due to knowing the possible allergies in that dish. A dish that is marked as not containing a specific allergen does not mean it is free from cross-contamination. Always ask about cross-contamination practices and possibilities in order to feel safe and assured that you are dining safely.
With the food culture being farm-to-table, many chefs and restaurants are happy to give you more information regarding a dish’s origin. Irish people are very friendly and are happy to make accommodations for you.
Gluten-free alternatives can be found throughout Ireland in anything from bread to main dishes and desserts. Fish and seafood can be found throughout the country, especially in the small coastal towns. Pork, beef, and lamb are popular in several traditional Irish dishes. Some of these dishes can be found with a fried egg on top, so be sure to ask about the presence of eggs if that is a concern for you. Potatoes and root vegetables are staples in Irish cooking as well as cheese and dairy.
Irish Soda Bread and scones are widely popular and contain buttermilk and other ingredients depending on the recipe.
In Ireland, soy can be found in bread and chocolate, but oftentimes, fresh bread does not have soy, so double check with restaurants if you plan to indulge in fresh baked bread. Chocolate tends to have soy lecithin, but you can find some options that are free from soy, so just be more cautious when choosing chocolate treats.
Nuts can easily slip into dishes and desserts like breads, ice creams, shortbreads, etc, so always check with the restaurant staff to ensure the restaurant and certain dishes are safe for you or your allergies can be accommodated. Peanuts are not as widely used in main dishes. If you plan to hit the pub scene, fun fact: Guinness is soy-free!
While traveling in Ireland with food allergies does require diligent preparation and consideration, you don’t have to miss out on your dream Irish adventure. With the proper knowledge, recommendations, and restaurant research, you can savor the flavors of Ireland while accommodating your food allergy needs.
I would love to help you plan your next trip to this enchanting country and take some of the stress and overwhelm off of your plate. Visit my contact page to learn more about working with me as your full-service food allergy travel planner. You can book a complimentary consultation to discuss your needs and trip further.