Allergies at a Seafood Restaurant

Seafood Allergy and Eating at Restaurants

Avoid seafood restaurants if you're allergic to either fish or shellfish.

Seafood restaurants are popular places for many people to eat. Most of these restaurants have a wide variety of fresh fish and shellfish, although may serve non-seafood items such as chicken or beef. My seafood allergic patients often ask me if they should eat at a seafood restaurant and simply avoid to the specific food to which they are allergic. In general, I think that this is a bad idea.

The following are reasons why a person with one type of seafood allergy should generally avoid eating in a seafood restaurant:

Fish Allergy

Most people with an allergy to one type of fish should avoid eating other species of fish, given that the major fish allergens are shared among many species of fish. These fish allergens may also be present in steam released from cooking fish, and therefore could cause an allergic reaction from simply inhaling the steam from fish being cooked.

Fish proteins can also be hidden in certain foods, and therefore cause unexpected allergic reactions in people with fish allergy. Anchovies can be found in Worcestershire sauce and Caesar salad dressing, and surimi (processed Alaskan Pollock) is used as a meat-filler in a variety of foods, including sausages, pepperoni sticks, “meatless” hotdogs and imitation crab. Parvalbumin can also be found in frogs. Therefore, people with fish allergy should also avoid eating frog’s legs. Avoidance of other fish products, such as sushi, caviar, roe, fish oil capsules and cod liver oil would also seem prudent in people with fish allergy.

Shellfish are not related to fish, and therefore could be eaten by people with fish allergy. However, the danger of cross-contamination between fish and shellfish exists -- meaning that a person with a fish allergy would not want to eat shellfish in a seafood restaurant, since the food could be contaminated with fish allergens.

Shellfish Allergy

The major allergens responsible for allergic reactions caused by shellfish are called tropomyosins. The tropomyosin protein causes the majority of allergic reactions from crustaceans (shrimp, crab and lobster), although other allergens are important causes of allergic reactions from mollusks (clams, oysters and mussels). Since tropomyosins show high rates of cross-reactivity among shellfish, a person with an allergy to one type of shellfish is very likely to be allergic to other shellfish -- and therefore should avoid all shellfish. While fish are not related to shellfish because they have different, unrelated allergens, a person with shellfish allergy may want to avoid eating fish in a seafood restaurant due to the possibility of fish being contaminated with shellfish allergens.

Even breathing in the steam from cooking shellfish has been known to cause allergic reactions in people with shellfish allergy. A 1992 scientific paper reported on a chef who experienced asthma symptoms as a result of cooking various forms of shellfish.

He had a history of shellfish allergy, but noticed that even without eating the shellfish, he would experience allergic reactions from simply inhaling the steam from cooking shellfish. Therefore, the tropomyosins from shellfish can be released into the air and could cause allergic reactions in people with shellfish allergy. 

Learn more about food allergies.


Lopata AL, O’Hehir RE, Lehrer SB. Shellfish Allergy. Clinical and Experimental Allergy. 2010;(40):850-858.

Wild LG, Lehrer SB. Fish and Shellfish Allergy. Current Allergy and Asthma Reports. 2005;5:74-79.

Patel PC1, Cockcroft DW. Occupational asthma caused by exposure to cooking lobster in the work environment: a case report. Ann Allergy. 1992. Apr;68(4):360-1.

DISCLAIMER: The information contained in this site is for educational purposes only, and should not be used as a substitute for personal care by a licensed physician. Please see your physician for diagnosis and treatment of any concerning symptoms or medical condition.

Continue Reading