Please sign in to post.

allergic to wine, can I survive in Europe?

I'm severely allergic to the preservatives in wine (E223), and sometimes other foods. Wine in Europe is not "better" than US wine in this respect. Worldwide, I see tours packaged around wine-tasting events, food and wine, dinners made with wine. Is it possible to travel Europe with simple food bought at markets, and water? Is it considered rude to decline wine when it is offered? Thanks for your thoughts.

Posted by
2133 posts

It's no problem at all to turn down wine. I never drink it and always have water instead. But a dislike and an allergy require different tactics while traveling. I don't like alcohol, but if some gets in my food or someone pours me a glass at a group meal, I just don't worry about it. An allergy however...well that's a problem. I have a food allergy and that is a hassle when I travel. I'm unfamiliar with a preservative allergy. Does your throat swell? Do you just get a rash?

There's a lot of allergy variations out there so I'm sure people do a lot of different things. I have an anaphylactic allergy and I've traveled all over the world with it but it requires a lot of vigilance. I usually rent an apartment so I can cook my own food, but I do eat in restaurants sometimes. I carry a card describing my allergy and I try to use it, but it often leads to confusion with the servers and isn't that helpful.

I eat a lot of "safety foods" when I travel. Nutrition bars I recognize from home, bread, cheese, yogurt etc. I also carry an Epipen, benadryl and Zyrtec.

If you've never been to Europe at all, you could certainly make a "test" trip to an English-speaking country. That way the labels in the grocery stores will at least be in English. I've spent A LOT of time trying to decipher German, French etc in grocery stores. But is has gotten easier with every trip...I recognize more and more labels from home in the stores.

Given all of that, though, an additive/preservative allergy will require some effort. You're clearly used to dealing with it in the US so I imagine you'd work it out while you travel.

Good luck!

Posted by
2580 posts

It sounds like you're working off old stereotypes of life in Europe. You can eat or drink ANYTHING you want, anywhere, at any time. Just like here. If need be, get all your meals as takeaway from supermarkets after shopping for items you want to eat.

Posted by
4 posts

Thank you Valerie, that's a very helpful post. Yes I am anaphylactic, my throat swells and I suffocate. And it's the preservative in epipens, so I have to rely on liquid benadryl and zyrtec and avoidance. I nearly died in China, because sulfites are used everywhere to keep food looking pretty in tourist areas. I was with a tour with no access to a market, and could not drink the local water. I sometimes have trouble with cleaning products and air fresheners in hotel rooms, too. I am thinking that a test trip taking day trips from a safe place (apartment, B&B, hotel with microwave) might work best. I am looking at Rick's "my way" tours as an option, where there are no group meals, to lower the risk while still having a nice group experience.
Phred, no you can't eat whatever you want on most tours, the food is planned into the tour package. My husband doesn't want me going by myself (though I usually do it in the Americas) so I'm either going on a tour, or find a compatible travel buddy, for a first trip.

Posted by
1656 posts

Of course - there is bubbly water, juice, and other alcoholic beverages that don't have preservatives (e.g. limoncello, Becherovka, schnapps). Just choose a tour that doesn't focus on wine and it's a-ok to say no. There was a similar post here about alcohol and RS tours. Just a side note, be sure wherever you go that you print out a card in the language of the country you're visiting noting your allergies.

Posted by
2133 posts

I can't imagine Europe would be harder than China...I'm doing China in September and I'm nervous about food over there!

I've taken numerous tours. I always tell the guides privately about the allergy and ask them to help for any included meals and they're nice about it. I always find it a little awkward, though, because there's that fine and often-debated line between food dislikes, food intolerances and the life-threatening allergies.

You're surely used to avoiding the preservatives so in a grocery store, given enough time, you'd be okay, I bet. It sometimes takes me a long time to wander the aisles of the stores, but it's pretty fun. I make a lot of standbys that I can make anywhere...pasta and marinara sauce, baked potatoes with cheese, grilled cheese, scrambled eggs.

One other thought: I'm sure you'll carry the allergy information card that people always recommend, but just be prepared for it to be misunderstood, somehow. I've had a lot of close calls in restaurants....corn served on pizza (common in Germany, somehow), corn in a tossed salad, corn in soups. I'm always a little nervous.

One other thing I do...Benadryl knocks me out so I try to avoid that...but when I travel I take a Zyrtec every day, even though I seldom take it at home...gives me a little added protection, I think.

Posted by
3681 posts

Hi, neighbor!

I feel so fortunate to not have those kinds of allergies and I really sympathize with you. I had a similar reaction to an IV drug I was given in an outpatient situation one time, and I certainly don't ever want to have to deal with that again. You know it's bad when the suits come into the room to make sure you're okay and that you're not going to sue.

I haven't had any alcohol since about 1990. Not drinking alcohol has not affected my trips to Europe in any way whatsoever. I love bottled sparkling water and always have a bottle in my room (even if I don't have a mini-fridge) along with a bottle of still water. I have gut issues and even in places where the water is perfectly okay to drink, sometimes it's better for me to limit my exposure to tap water in the shower and for teeth brushing.

There are so many delicious fruit flavored drinks available that I occasionally indulge in them, too. I had my first Lipton iced tea with fizzy water in Leiden and now it's in my fridge all the time. My husband fell in love with Schweppes Agrum in France. The closest thing we've found here in Tucson is an organic blood orange sparkling drink from Italy available sometimes at Costco. I just checked the label and it shows no indication of any kind of preservatives. I'm under the impression that there are fewer preservatives used in Europe in general than in the US, but I'm probably wrong about that.

You definitely will want to learn and write down what the correct words for all the things you are allergic to in whatever language(s) you'll be dealing with to be sure you avoid any of the things that can affect you. That may be a bit complicated because different countries may call them different things and translations may not be so direct. For example, the various names for E223 listed in this little Wikipedia article might all need to be translated.

Good luck with your research and trip planning.

Posted by
4 posts

E-221 through E-228 are the official EU codes for sulfite additives. It's much simpler than in the US. I think Europe, especially Scandinavia, should be better than the US. But "syrup" and "starch" usually have corn, preservatives, and other ingredients that are not disclosed, so they are dangerous for those of us with allergies. Limoncello and schnapps and many fruit juices are not OK, the sulfites are used in the syrups to preserve the colors. Lemon juice, at least in the US, is always sulfited or it turns brown. Valerie, beware that corn starch is used as a coating in Asian cooking. You will have a dangerous time in the spanish-speaking Americas, where corn is a staple. From all of your helpful comments, I'm now thinking that I should avoid a tour for a first trip. Too many issues for food and lodging.

Posted by
5784 posts

Having been a home wine maker in an earlier life I can say that sulphites (SO2) are used as an antibacterial and to kill wild yeast before dosing the crushed grapes with wine yeast. We used SO2 to sanitize equipment etc. We use to shoot for more than 50 ppm with 100 ppm being the target dosage to kill wild yeasts. So yes wine, especially white, will have sulphites in residual amounts.

Keep in mind that some culinary cultures use wine as an important ingredient. I don't know what happens to the sulphites when cooked but the sulphites are being diluted by the other ingredients.

Posted by
16883 posts

General terms in Italian would be sulfiti or maybe conservativi, but NOT preservativi (prophylactics).

Posted by
7205 posts

Can you "survive" Europe without wine??? Can you say "Coke"? or water or any other myriad of drinks.

Posted by
4 posts

Valerie, and for anyone with food allergies: The US, EU and maybe New Zealand have good disclosure over product labeling, and there's a requirement that food from other countries for export to the US/EU will also follow labeling laws. Don't expect this in other countries, particularly China. Don't even expect them to understand the concept of food allergies. You should expect labels, if you find them, to omit ingredients and additives. Corn starch is used everywhere as a coating and thickener for sauces, and they'll mix it with whatever is on hand that day. A "starch" or a "syrup" in all countries can legally contain anything. I carry immersion heaters, 12V for a car and 110V for indoor use, about $7, tucked inside a ceramic soup mug, together with packages of oatmeal, powdered milk, instant rice and safe soup packets, so I can boil water and make soup or oatmeal just about anywhere I can find a power source. Usually I also carry something like roast pumpkin seeds, a compact source of calories. I've used them many times to keep me fed until I could locate a market with simple roast chicken, eggs, or something I recognize as simple and safe. I did great in Guatemala eating simple street food, but I think I'd die doing that in Thailand. I managed to finish my China trip by finding out that the local beer was safe to drink, so I drank beer for calories and burned it off walking, along with eggs when I could find them. It's a wild world out there!

Posted by
5784 posts

"...disclosure over product labeling, and there's a requirement that food from other countries for export to the US/EU will also follow labeling laws."

While product labels may be accurate restutants and hotels menus may or may not disclosure common food concerns.

A friend allergic to chicken has a card in Mandarin and English explaining his allergy. A restaurant in China inadvertently served a dish with chicken but before he ate it a waiter ripped the chicken dish from the table apologizing and replaced the dish. Moral to the story is let your wait person know of food issues. If you are lucky they will know what is in the dish.