Managing Shellfish and Fish Allergies

in Fish & Shellfish
Published: October 4, 2010

Eating Out: Seafood can be especially difficult to avoid in a restaurant setting. For those with fish or shellfish allergies, seafood restaurants should be avoided altogether. Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese, Korean and Thai restaurants can be especially heavy on fish and shellfish, so it’s important to look at the menu and talk to someone at the restaurant before you eat there.

Some people with severe allergies to fish or shellfish may even react to the smell of cooking seafood, so just hanging out in a seafood restaurant, even without eating, can lead to problems.
See: What’s the Scoop on Airborne Seafood Reactions

Once you find a restaurant that isn’t seafood-heavy, call ahead and ask the manager or chef about menu items and how they handle pans and utensils in the kitchen to avoid cross-contamination. If you don’t get solid answers, or they say they can’t accommodate you, move on to a different restaurant.

When you arrive at the restaurant, tell your server about your allergy and discuss menu items that will be safe. If you don’t feel he or she is able to answer your questions properly, ask to speak to the chef or the manager. If you’re still unsure, head for the door, or stick with a beverage.

Cross-Contamination: It’s important to make sure the food you’re allergic to doesn’t come in contact with the food you are eating. That means thoroughly cleaning utensils and kitchen equipment after use. For example, if someone makes a tuna sandwich on the cutting board and you’re allergic to fish, be sure to clean the board thoroughly with soap and water before using it to make your own, safe sandwich.

Cross-contamination is a particular problem in restaurants, where pans and utensils are often shared. Make sure your server and the kitchen staff understand that even trace amounts of seafood may be a problem for you.

Also make sure to avoid foods that are deep fried in the same oil as the seafood you are allergic to. For example, if you have a shrimp allergy, don’t order those deep-fried zucchini sticks if they’re cooked in the same deep fryer as that popcorn shrimp.

Go Kosher: If you have a shellfish allergy, kosher foods are generally safe, because shellfish is not part of the kosher diet. Find grocers, markets, delis and restaurants near you that sell kosher foods and you’ll have plenty of safe items to choose from.

Call the manufacturer: If you’re unsure about whether a particular product contains seafood, contact the manufacturer by email or phone.

Most companies are accustomed to getting product inquiries from the public and are happy to help. If they can’t answer your questions, try a different product instead.

Next Page: Uncertain Foods