When Your Child Has a Food Allergy: Shellfish

Foods containing shellfish.

When a child has a shellfish allergy, exposure to even a small amount of shellfish can cause a life-threatening reaction. This sheet tells you more about your child’s shellfish allergy. You’ll learn what foods your child should stay away from, what to look for on food labels, and how your child can eat safely in restaurants.

Shellfish allergy: What to stay away from

Most children should not eat any kind of shellfish. But some children are allergic to some types of shellfish and not others. Ask your child’s healthcare provider whether your child should stay away from all shellfish, or just certain types. Types of shellfish include:

  • Abalone

  • Anchovies. These are not a shellfish, but they contain a protein similar to the protein in shellfish.

  • Calcium supplements made from coral

  • Clams. These include cherrystone, little neck, geoduck, pismo, and quahog.

  • Cockle, periwinkle, and sea urchin

  • Crab

  • Crawfish, also called crayfish, and ecrevisse

  • Cuttlefish

  • Limpet (lapas and opihi)

  • Lobster and langoustines, a type of lobster

  • Mollusks

  • Mussels

  • Oysters and squid (calamari)

  • Scallops

  • Sea urchin and sea cucumber (beche-de-mer)

  • Shrimp and prawns

  • Snails, whelks, and periwinkles

Some children with shellfish allergies are also allergic to other fish, such as salmon, trout, and tuna. Ask your child’s healthcare provider whether other types of fish are safe.

What to look for on food labels and menus

Shellfish go by many different names. Watch for these terms on labels and menus:

  • Bouillabaisse. This is a seafood soup that usually contains shellfish.

  • Caesar salad and Caesar dressing. These often contain anchovies.

  • Cherrystone, littleneck, pismo, and quahog clams

  • Coral and tomalley. These are parts of a lobster.

  • Paella. This is a rice dish that often contains clams or mussels.

  • Scampi. This is a shrimp dish.

  • Surimi. This is a name for imitation crab and shrimp that sometimes contains shellfish.

  • Some types of sushi. Read labels carefully on prepared sushi. When eating out, ask your server about ingredients.

  • Tapenade. This is an olive paste that may contain anchovies.

  • Worcestershire sauce. Many brands contain anchovies.

Eating out safely

Some children are more sensitive to shellfish than others. Just breathing the fumes of cooking shellfish may trigger an allergic reaction in certain children. For your child’s safety, follow these precautions when eating away from home:

  • Don't eat at seafood restaurants. It’s likely that shellfish may come in contact with foods your child can safely eat.

  • Don't order fried foods. Many restaurants cook chicken, french fries, and shrimp in the same oil.

  • Ask about grilled foods. Chicken, beef, and shrimp may be cooked on the same grill.

  • Don't order hot dogs and deli meats. These may contain traces of shellfish.

  • Ask your server about ingredients and how food is prepared instead of relying on menu descriptions.

  • Carry a “chef card.” This special card explains your child’s food allergy to restaurant workers. You can make your own card or print one from a website on the Internet.

If your child has ANY of the symptoms listed below, act quickly!

If one has been prescribed, use an epinephrine autoinjector right away. Then call 911 or emergency services.

  • Trouble breathing or cough that won’t stop

  • Swelling of the mouth or face

  • Dizziness or fainting

  • Vomiting or severe diarrhea