Foods to Avoid When You Have a Shellfish Allergy

Close up of raw shrimp
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If you're allergic to shellfish, you need to avoid all shellfish or risk a potentially severe allergic reaction, such as anaphylaxis.

This may seem like a simple task — steer clear of obvious shellfish like lobster, shrimp and clams. But there are actually many other types of shellfish, some of which — like sea urchins and calamari — you might not immediately recognize as shellfish.

Shellfish Types: Mollusks and Crustaceans

Shellfish are divided into two families: mollusks and crustaceans.

It's possible to be allergic to just one of these two (for example, crustaceans), but not the other (for example, mollusks). However, most people who are allergic to one of these actually are allergic to both, so don't eat any shellfish from either family without talking to your doctor first.

Unfortunately, food labeling laws in the United States only cover crustaceans, not mollusks, so only ingredients made from crustaceans must be identified on labels with an allergy warning.

People who are allergic to crustaceans should avoid:

  • crab
  • crawfish (also called crayfish or crawdads)
  • langoustines
  • lobster
  • prawns
  • sea urchin
  • shrimp

People who are allergic to mollusks should avoid all mollusks:

  • abalone
  • clams (quahogs)
  • cockles
  • limpets
  • mussels
  • octopus
  • oysters
  • scallops
  • snails (escargot - both sea and land snails should be avoided)
  • squid (calamari)
  • surimi (imitation shellfish, often found in sushi)
  • whelks

Avoiding Shellfish in Restaurants

If you have a shellfish allergy, you'll need to be extremely careful when dining out.

You may want to avoid seafood restaurants entirely since people with severe shellfish allergies have had allergic reactions from breathing in particles of allergens from shellfish that is being steamed, fried or boiled.

In fact, depending on the severity of your allergy, you should consider avoiding some types of restaurants and cuisines because of the high risk of cross-contamination.

These include:

  • Chinese, Japanese, Thai, Vietnamese, or Malaysian foods, which often include a fish sauce made from shrimp or imitation shellfish
  • Cajun or Creole food, which frequently contains shrimp or other shellfish

Some restaurants may use shellfish stock as a flavoring or base for sauces or soups. Always tell your server or a manager about your allergy, and ask if any items you're considering ordering contain shellfish.

Foods that Often Contain Shellfish

Shellfish is an ingredient in numerous recipes, although it may not always be obvious. Be on the lookout for these dishes and ingredients in restaurants and when eating food prepared by friends or relatives:

  • bouillabaisse (a French fish soup)
  • ceviche (fish or shellfish in an acidic citrus marinade)
  • cioppino (fish stew)
  • clamato (a clam broth and tomato juice mixture sometimes used in Bloody Mary drinks)
  • crevette (the French term for shrimp)
  • scampi (contains lobster or shrimp)
  • etouffée (Cajun crawfish dish)
  • gumbo (fish and shellfish stew)
  • paella (Spanish rice dish usually made with shrimp)
  • jambalaya (Cajun rice dish often made with shrimp or crawfish)
  • nam prik (Thai fish sauce)
  • mam tom (Vietnamese fish sauce)

Non-Food Sources of Shellfish

When you have a severe shellfish allergy, you also need to be aware of potential non-food sources of the allergen.

These can include:

  • compost or fertilizers
  • fish food
  • pet food
  • HemCon bandages (a wound dressing made from shrimp shells)
  • calcium supplements made from oyster shells or coral
  • glucosamine
  • omega-3 supplements (usually made from fish, but sometimes made from shellfish)


Food Allergy Research and Education. Shellfish fact sheet. Accessed Feb. 11, 2016.

Interventional Hemostasis Products. Q&A. Accessed Feb. 11, 2016.

Canadian Food Inspection Agency. Seafood Allergy. Accessed Feb. 11, 2016.

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