Tag Archives: oysters

Living with Dietary Restrictions: Shellfish and Fish

Shellfish and fish allergies are two of the most prevalent of the top food allergies.   These food items account for over half of all food allergies in the United States.  According to AllergicChild.com, “Approximately 12 million Americans suffer from food allergy, with 6.9 million allergic to fish and/or shellfish.”  However unlike many other food allergens, overall shellfish and fish are easier to stay away from  since with the exception of some food, vitamin and cosmetic items, their inclusion in most recipes is fairly obvious.

Photo from 1.bp.blogspot.com

       What’s the difference between shellfish and fish allergies?

Shellfish are overall pretty basic as they are divided into two different groups, mollusks and crustaceans.  Crustaceans include items like crabs, lobster, crayfish, shrimp and prawn, while mollusks include sub-categories such as Bivalves (clams, mussels, oysters and scallops), Gastropods (limpets, periwinkles, snails (escargot) and abalone) and Cephalopods (squid, cuttlefish and octopus).  The Mayo Clinic advises that “Some people are allergic to only one type of shellfish, but can eat others.”  This means it’s important to always ask a physician before eating any shellfish to be positive of which types must be avoided and which might be edible.  The Clinic continues by saying, “You’re at increased risk of developing a shellfish allergy if allergies of any type are common in your family.”

Fish allergies in contrast are much more varied compared to many other types of food allergies.  Since there are so many different types of fish, it’s hard to know exactly what to avoid.   Reactions can be caused by anything from scaly or bony fish to an entire family/species of fish.  Because the proteins in most fish are similar it’s a good idea to avoid all fish products to be safe and avoid an allergic reaction. 

Photo from talkallergy.com

                                     What should be avoided?

Even though it may seem pretty obvious to avoid items like crab, shrimp, lobster, cod, salmon and other types of shellfish and fish it’s also highly important to know about all of the items that contain these allergens.  While you may not realize it there are fish products lurking in many different types of sauces and food toppings.  AllergicChild.com lists many of these items and what they contain: Caesar salad dressing (anchovies), Worcestershire sauce (anchovies), Caponata (anchovies), fish sauce (shellfish/fish) and Patum Peperium or Gentelman’s Relish (anchovies).   The Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network also reminds to be on the lookout for ingredients in Barbecue sauce which often contains Worcestershire sauce.   It’s also important to be careful when eating foods like gumbo, paella and many different types of Asian cuisine which can often contain shellfish and/or fish.  

Some everyday products even use Menhaden (a type of fish) such as vitamins, soap, cosmetics and insect spray.  AllergicChild.com also warns of the use of a new type of bandage being used in Iraq.  This item, used since 2003, called a HemCon® Bandage, is actually made from the shells of shrimp. However, so far during the product’s allergy testing no individuals had an allergic reaction, including the 8 patients with known shellfish allergies.  But as with any other shellfish/fish product, it’s important to be cautious when using such an item.

Photo from VegeUsa

                    Shellfish/Fish Alternatives and Eating on the Go

Unlike many other food allergies, there aren’t a huge amount of alternatives to shellfish/fish available.   Because of this it’s easier to look for Vegan options.  This is because Vegan foods will not contain actual animal products and/or by-products which make them a safe alternative and unlikely to suffer from cross-contamination.  VegeUSA suggests that the lack of seafood alternatives is due to the fact that it’s harder to replicate than most other types of meat.  However, they worked at the process and came up with Shrimp, Fish Fillets and Tuna Roll alternatives which are all vegan (aka shellfish/fish free).

With the exception of Seafood based restaurants, eating shellfish/fish free is overall a bit more manageable than other food allergies.  However, it’s always good to remember a few tips.  Avoid ordering French fries or other fried food from a place that also serves fried seafood due to cross-contamination of the frying oil.  Eating out at a Japanese restaurant may also be a no-no since it’s very common for multiple items to be cooked on the same surface (ex: going from cooking one customer’s fish to preparing your steak).  Eating With Food Allergies gives another great tip for eating out with any type of food allergy.  The site instructs that it’s helpful to either eat earlier or later than the normal crowds (i.e. before 6 PM or after 9 PM).   This strategy is essential in order to get more attentive service which can be vital in a server realizing that you suffer from an allergy and that your food needs are a necessity and not simply a preference.

While preparing to go out to eat, it’s always comforting to be able to research the available options on sites like Project Allergy in order to find out what the policies are at your favorite restaurants and hotels.  However, if you’re out and about there are some great casual restaurants to visit.  Macaroni Grill, On the Border, Famous Dave’s, Chili’s and Ruby Tuesday’s all offer online lists that cover each of their foods and what major allergens they may contain.  If you’re looking more for fast-food and/or delivery, Domino’s Pizza, Wendy’s and Boston Market all have similar informational sheets.  With many of these restaurants there are often mostly non-shellfish/fish options and at several places the only seafood item is Caesar Salad Dressing which is often sealed in packets that do not come in contact with other food items.

Photo from VegeUSA

                  Delicious Shellfish/Fish Free recipes to try at home

Vegan Shrimp Scampi from VegeUSA

Anchovy-Free Caesar Salad Dressing from Jewishfood-list

How do you or your family members deal with being Shellfish/Fish Free?  Please share your story. 

Dealing With the Effects of the BP Oil Spill

It’s been six months since the BP oil spill began and while it isn’t as heavily highlighted in the news, everyone and everything impacted is still feeling the effects, especially the restaurant business.

Prior to oil spill, Paul Rotner Sr., director of operations of Acme Management Group in Louisiana, described the area in general in good shape and hadn’t felt the effects of the economy as much as other places around the country.

But after the oil spill, everything changed and all five Acme Oyster House restaurants have been impacted.

Four of the locations are in Louisiana (New Orleans, Baton Rouge, Metairie and Covington) and one in Sandestin, Florida.

“We started seeing monetary impact in June and it has been a struggle currently,” Rotner says.  “Since the spill started, it’s an issue for us because we sell a lot of oysters.  20 percent of business and (with the) closures of oyster beds—most of them—and fisheries all shut down, it’s affected us quite a bit.”

Sandestin, Florida is a strong seasonal market and many people just didn’t travel to the area this year.  Rotner says the area has four months of strong business throughout the summer and occupancy levels were 30 to 40 percent lower than normal.

For Louisiana, the downtown area (New Orleans) is a tourist area and had been doing very well.  The restaurant took an eight percent hit just after trending upwards of about five percent (pre-Hurricane Katrina numbers).

“Then local markets, one in Metairie, then one on north shore, Covington and one in Baton Rouge took a huge hit,” Rotner says. “That’s as the press kept showing the spill, even though everything was being tested by five different agencies regularly, the fear got into the mind of the people and (business) dropped 18 percent—and will be rough for people to gain that back.”

Seafood in general has been severely affected from the oil spill and Rotner has a lot of product issues trying to get oysters.  To keep oil out of marshes, the Mississippi River was opened to keep oil out but too much fresh water killed some of the product.

“A mini sack of oysters is 40 lbs. per sack and had 110 useable oysters,” Rotner explains. “We’re lucky to get 60 right now.”

And even out of the 60 they can use, the product is subpar.

Sandestin location, Photo from Discover Emerald Coast website

While sales have showed a slight increase for the Acme Oyster House restaurants, sales still aren’t back to normal.  When reflecting on everything, Rotner isn’t sure how long it will take for things to return to normal.

“We don’t know what the outcome of the oyster industry will be,” Rotner says.  “Just from the fresh water impact—damage wise—for oyster beds, it could take 18 months to get it out of the water. (It) could be backed up for a year and a struggle next year.  We just don’t know for sure.”

Rotner wants the people who aren’t coming out of fear to know the product is safe. He says Louisiana’s Departments of Health and Hospitals and Wild Life and Fisheries, the government, Centers for Disease Control and other groups have been testing the waters every day and haven’t found anything in oysters.

“I eat them every day and haven’t had a problem.”

What the Acme Oyster House restaurants (along with other restaurants affected) need most is people to help get back to normal.

“It’s in the back of their mind,” Rotner says about people not coming to their restaurants.  “Hopefully BP and the government will get us the money for the advertising to bring people back.  It took about three years after Katrina; I hope it doesn’t take that long.”

To learn more about Acme Oyster House, visit their website here or visit acmeoyster.com.