Fish and shellfish can be considered as super-food because of their high nutrient content. Fish, especially the likes of tuna, salmon and herring, contain essential omega-3 fatty acids, proteins, and vitamins and minerals (e.g., Vitamin A and Vitamin B-complex). Such are the beneficial effects of fish and shellfish that nutritionists recommend eating fish 2-3 times a week!
But there’s a catch: Fish and shellfish can also cause allergies in certain susceptible people. In fact, these foods are considered as among the top 10 most common allergens. This is a cause for concern because there’s no cure for allergies to both types of food, not to mention that even their small traces can cause moderate to severe allergic reactions, even death.
This isn’t to say that people with fish and shellfish allergies should never come near a Joe’s Crab Shack. The important thing is getting the proper perspective and adopting the proper safety measures in managing seafood allergies. Let’s take a look at these matters from the viewpoint of both the diner and the restaurant.
The Diner’s Point of View
People with allergies should always be vigilant about their welfare where their possible exposure to their specific allergens are concerned. If you’re an adult, the responsibility mainly lies in your hands but your close family and friends should also be informed about your medical condition. If you’re the parent to a child with allergies, then it’s your responsibility to educate your child about the dos and don’ts as well as to ensure that the people around him know the basics of allergy management.
Here are a few things to remember that can significantly reduce your risk for becoming exposed to their specific fish and/or shellfish allergens.
- Research about the menu of the restaurants you’re planning on visiting before going there. You may be able to come with your family and friends to a seafood-centric restaurant without running the risk of allergens under certain conditions. You can order, for example, the meat and vegetable dishes available as well as inform the chef and server about your allergens.
- Always bring your anti-allergy medications, including your epinephrine, inhalers and antihistamines, in your bag. You can at least have emergency relief from your allergic reactions while being transported to the nearest hospital. Just keep in mind that epinephrine is an emergency medication, not a treatment that should be taken anytime you want.
- Know what’s safe and what’s not safe for you – or in other words, know your specific allergens. You may be allergic to only certain types of fish or seafood, such as when you can eat scallops but not lobster or you can eat finned fish but not shellfish. You should discuss the specifics with your doctor.
- Know the types of fish, shellfish, and seafood you are allergic to. Be sure to know them on sight so that you don’t run the risk of eating them, not even of being exposed in small quantities to them.
- Ask the waiter and/or chef about the specific ingredients, especially the fish and seafood, which are included in the dishes you’re interested in. Let them know, too, why you’re asking so that they can take the appropriate measures, if needed.
When you know what to do, you may still be able to enjoy the bounty of the sea without breaking out in hives.
The Restaurant’s Point of View
Many restaurants are also conscious about the health situation of their target customers and, thus, are taking the appropriate steps to look after their welfare. The following have been observed in the restaurants that have taken said responsibility.
- Inform the diners about the ingredients that may cause allergies in susceptible people. Fish sauce, a common ingredient in Asian dishes, may cause allergies, too, even in relatively small amounts because of their fermented nature. This is also true for fish-based ingredients like Worcestershire sauce, fishmeal, fish stock, caviar, roe, anchovies, and shark fin and cartilage.
- Prepare the fish, shellfish and other seafood in a separate section of the kitchen. This can lessen the potential for cross-contamination among dishes.
- Use separate fryers, grills and other utensils for cooking fish, shellfish and seafood, if possible. Otherwise, frying, grilling and broiling other ingredients on the same grill can transfer the allergens from the fish and seafood.
- Train the staff members in the kitchen and dining room to be conscious about the allergy-related safety measures in place. But the training must also be done regularly (i.e., at regular intervals) so that complacency doesn’t creep in, so to speak.
While removing all allergens from food isn’t possible – there are just too many allergens that can affect the general population – the vigilance of both the restaurants and their diners can reduce the risk. This isn’t just about risks related to the allergic reactions and the possible lawsuits but, more importantly, the sense of responsibility that each one of us should have for ourselves and for others.