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Since 2½-year-old Ava Zinna ended up in the emergency room this summer after an allergic reaction to peanuts, her mother, Tara, has worried about her daughter's food whenever they eat out. But when the family went to Blue Smoke restaurant Sunday afternoon in New York, someone had already asked to hold the peanuts.

The Zinnas took part in Worry Free Dinners, a series of monthly meals for people with food allergies. Sunday's 16-person barbecue -- complete with ribs, chicken, burgers and brownies -- was the first event aimed directly at parents and children affected by food allergies.

"When you're going into a restaurant environment, you're putting your child's safety and livelihood into other hands," Tara Zinna said. At the Worry Free Dinners event, "not only was the food phenomenal, but it's wonderful to have an opportunity to interact with other families who are dealing with similar issues."

The recent "worry free" meal event took place just days before the Food and Drug Administration's September 16 public hearing on food ingredient labels. Since 2006, food manufacturers have been required to clearly label products that contain any of the most common allergens -- milk, eggs, fish, shellfish, peanuts, tree nuts, wheat and soy -- but some allergy experts say the labels should be more explicit.

Restaurant dining can be a terrifying experience for people with severe food allergies. When the meal arrives, there's often no way of knowing every single ingredient that went into it, or what else touched the plate and utensils used to serve it. You also have to pester the restaurant staff with special requests. Read full article »

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