Tag Archives: shellfish

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. 

A crash course in food safety

Recent outbreaks of salmonella in the food supply have brought the restaurant and foodservice industry into the media spotlight. News of illness and recalls associated with spinach, tomatoes and jalapenos has been a serious cause for concern to those who make their livelihood in the foodservice industry. Yet, however widespread it appears to be, according to the National Restaurant Association, the U.S. food supply is the safest in the world.

While recent events have proven it is often difficult to know you’re purchasing food products from safe sources, operators can lessen the risk of receiving contaminated food products by washing hands frequently and thoroughly, not allowing employees to work when ill, segregating fresh produce from other refrigerated foods and washing fresh produce in running water before serving.

The Big Three

In addition to purchasing food from safe sources, other factors that contribute to food-borne illness in foodservice include time-temperature abuse; cross-contamination; and poor personal hygiene. The North American Association of Food Equipment Manufacturers (NAFEM) refers to these as the “Big Three” of unsafe food handling:

  1. Time-temperature abuse occurs when cooked or raw foods are not held or stored at required temperatures; when food is not cooked or reheated to temperatures that kill microorganisms; and when foods are improperly cooled.
  2. Cross contamination occurs when bacteria is transferred among different surfaces and food items. For example, using a cutting board to cut raw meat, and then using it to slice fresh vegetables is a great way to transfer microorganisms.
  3. Last, your staff can transmit diseases through poor hygiene; for example, improper hand-washing, coughing or sneezing around food, handling food after touching open sores or scratches or coming to work when they are sick.

Foods most likely to cause problems

The FDA identifies several groups of foods that, by their nature, are more likely to become contaminated because of the way they are typically processed and handled during distribution:

  • Milk and milk products
  • Red meat and poultry
  • Fish, shellfish and crustaceans
  • Untreated raw eggs
  • Baked or boiled potatoes
  • Cooked rice and beans
  • Tofu or other soy-protein foods
  • Synthetic ingredients such as textured soy protein in meat alternatives
  • Garlic and oil mixtures
  • Sprouts and sprout seeds
  • Sliced melons

It is important that these food products are properly handled, stored and prepared. According to NAFEM, most foods outside these categories are more “forgiving” when it comes to handling abuse and the potential for foodborne illness. In the next section, we’ll go over some important HACCP (Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point) guidelines for safely handling these types of foods. The NRAEF (National Restaurant Association Education Foundation) is also a helpful tool for food safety guidance and training. The ServSafe program provides training and certification to foodservice professionals.

The 7 Principles of HACCP

HACCP is a systematic approach to the identification, evaluation and control of food safety hazards based on the following seven principles:

  1. Conduct a hazard analysis
  2. Determine the critical control points (CCPs)
  3. Establish critical limits
  4. Establish monitoring procedures
  5. Establish corrective actions
  6. Establish verification procedures
  7. Establish record-keeping and documentation procedures

For more information about HACCP guidelines and procedures, please visit FDA.gov.

Essential E&S

According to NAFEM, equipment manufacturers are driven more than ever before by a demand from the foodservice industry marketplace to design equipment and supplies that address these critical food safety and sanitation concerns. Here a just a few common items that promote sanitation and food safety:

  • Color-coded cutting boards. As mentioned earlier, using the same cutting board for raw meat and fresh vegetables could result in a foodservice nightmare. Using a set of color-coded boards helps prevent cross-contamination in the kitchen. You should use a different cutting board for fish, cooked foods, fruits and vegetables, poultry, and red meat.
  • Blast Chillers. Blast chillers are designed to rapidly chill cooked food through the temperature danger zone (135°F to 40°F) to assure food safety. Most models of blast chillers come equipped with probes for critical temperature monitoring and many even have on-board computers and printers for HACCP record-keeping.
  • No-touch faucet handles. Many faucets come with an option for wrist handles, which don’t require users to touch the faucet after washing their hands. More manufacturers are designing sinks and faucets that promote proper hand washing techniques.
  • Antimicrobial technology. A wide variety of equipment and supplies now come coated with antimicrobial protection to ward off bacteria. Everything from youth seating, mop handles, carts, slicers, shelving, dish dollies, thermometers, knives, gloves and floor mats are now available with Microban.
  • No-touch waste containers. Many manufacturers sell “no-touch” models of trash cans and other waste receptacles that don’t required users to make contact with the container. Lids are available in a variety of styles that promote cleanliness.
  • Sneeze Guards. Because the last thing you want is someone sneezing on your salad.
  • Safety Ice Scoop System. Another restaurant item that often gets negative media attention is ice, but using an ice scoop holder will remind staff not to leave the ice scoop in the bin, and most models prevent hands from touching the surface of the scoop.