I have food allergies. I did not choose this. My son had food allergies when he was a toddler that, thankfully, he’s grown out of. He didn’t choose to have them, but we’re both glad he’s grown out of them.

There’s 15 million Americans out there just like us. For most people, unless you’ve been affected by it, it’s really hard to get it and to have compassion and empathy.

From working in corporate software sales for the last very long time, I go out to eat a lot – probably more than the average American, who eats out of the house for 200 meals a year. In all those meals, I’ve had a lot of experiences with restaurants and how they handle my food allergies.

Most of the time, I’m out with colleagues and customers or prospective customers. These are not folks I really want to make a big deal of out my allergies in front of. There is a stigma associated with having food allergies, and certainly with bringing any attention to them or burdening others with the responsibility of those allergies.

Typically, I try to make it a bit self-deprecating and humorous when I say to the server, “Hey, we need to have the food allergy conversation.” Here’s the thing: I know that most of the time I’m viewed as a painful customer. However, I just want to be able to sit down at a restaurant and have it be easy to feel and to be safe, to feel like I’m not gambling with my life, to feel like I’m not being judged as overdramatic and high maintenance. I smile, I laugh, I joke about my medic-alert bracelet and say things like “death is bad!” all in an effort to make the server like me and want to do everything they can to keep me safe.

What I’ve come to realize over time is that there are really two separate safety issues in restaurants for people with food allergies. There is How Safe You Feel and there is How Safe You Are, and the two are generally completely unrelated. A server can make me feel scared and unimportant and the kitchen could be amazing and safe. A server can make me feel totally taken care of and secure and the kitchen could be careless. And every combination in between is out there.

I started CertiStar to provide restaurants with the best practices, knowledge and compassion to keep food allergy customers safe. We go onsite to the restaurant and provide recommendations and training. Once they’re “CertiStarred”, customers can rest assured and know which restaurants are best equipped to provide a safe, secure and comfortable place to enjoy a peaceful, fun and delicious meal out with friends and family. Just like everyone else.

I started CertiStar so I could make eating out not only feel safer, but actually be safer too.