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Seafood Allergies: Spotting Problems on Food Labels

With a food allergy, it’s always important for you to know what you’re eating. Reading labels is your best way to stay safe. Here are some tips for spying out allergens.

Any packaged food has to show on the label if it contains milk, eggs, fish, shellfish, tree nuts, peanuts, wheat, or soybeans. Look on both the food label – “Contains: Fish” or “Contains: Shellfish” – and the ingredients list.

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Look out for Fishy Words

  • Fish or shellfish flavoring
  • Fake seafood (like mock crab meat)

Some people are allergic to only one kind of fish or shellfish. But your doctor may want you to avoid all kinds. Your risk of a serious allergic reaction may be too high. Talk with your doctor to find out what you should avoid.

Where Seafood Hides

Fish and shellfish are less likely to be hidden in foods than other allergens like wheat or soy. Here are some foods to watch for:

  • Caesar salad dressing, steak sauce, barbecue sauce, or Worcestershire sauce (these may have anchovies in them)
  • Meatloaf
  • Asian foods like Thai, Japanese, Vietnamese, and Chinese dishes
  • Fish and shellfish flavoring
  • Gelatin derived from fish/shellfish bones
  • Bouillabaisse
  • Surimi (imitation seafood, like imitation crab or mock crab)
  • Worcestershire sauce

How to Choose Safe Foods

  • Stick with packaged and labeled foods. Foods from salad bars, deli counters, and bakeries are more likely to accidentally contain your allergy triggers.
  • Read food labels every time you buy a product -- even if it's something you buy every week. Food manufacturers change ingredients all the time. A food that has been safe for you and your family may not always be OK.
  • If you see an ingredient you're not sure about, be careful. Look it up first. Consider contacting the manufacturer if you need more info.
  • Buying a different size or low-fat version? Read food labels. Low-fat or reduced-calorie versions of familiar foods may have very different ingredients. Sizing (like snack-sized packs) or packaging (a can instead of a carton) can affect ingredients. Some products may have different ingredients in different parts of the country.
  • Check labels on medications and toiletries. Food allergens can show up in drugs, cosmetics, shampoos, soaps, and lotions.
  • Stay away from cooking areas. Fish protein can become airborne in the steam released during cooking.
  • Do ask and tell. At restaurants, let the staff, servers, managers, cooks, or chef know about your food allergy and special accommodations that you might need. Don’t be afraid to ask how a dish is prepared. Sometimes it can be hard to tell everything that is in a dish based on how it is listed on the menu.

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Maryann Tomovich Jacobsen, MS, RD on October 29, 2014

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