All About Food Allergens: Shellfish

(FN1832, Reviewed March 2022)

This publication deals with food allergies and is intended for the use in parent education programs and by high school teachers.

Lead Author
Lead Author:
Taylor Anderson, NDSU Dietetic Intern (former)
Other Authors

Julie Garden Robinson, Ph.D., R.D., L.R.D, Professor and Food and Nutrition Specialist

Web only
Publication Sections

What are the symptoms of a shellfish allergy?

Some symptoms of a shellfish allergy are tingling in the mouth; abdominal pain; nausea; diarrhea; vomiting; congestion; trouble breathing; wheezing; skin reactions, including itching or hives; swelling of the face, lips, tongue, throat, ears or hands; lightheadedness; dizziness; or fainting.

What ingredients/foods should I avoid if I am allergic to shellfish?

Avoid foods that contain shellfish or any of these ingredients: barnacle, crab, crawfish, krill, lobster, prawns and shrimp. Avoid mollusks or any of these ingredients: abalone, clams, cockle, cuttlefish, limpet, mussels, octopus, oysters, periwinkle, sea cucumber, sea urchin, scallops, snails and squid.

Shellfish sometimes is found in the following: bouillabaisse, cuttlefish ink, glucosamine, fish stock, seafood flavoring or surimi.

Look for the shellfish allergen statement “contains crab, crawfish, krill, lobster, prawns, shrimp, etc.” by the ingredients on the food package label.

How can an allergic reaction to shellfish be prevented?

Read all food product labels carefully before purchasing and consuming the item. Avoid seafood restaurants; even if you order a nonseafood item from the menu, cross-contact with shellfish is possible.

How much of a food allergen can cause a reaction?

Even trace amounts of a food allergen can cause a reaction in some people with food allergies. Although ingestion is the primary cause of severe reactions, in some cases, skin contact or breathing in a food protein can cause symptoms.

How soon will a reaction start after eating a food?

Symptoms usually start as soon as a few minutes and as long as two hours after eating a food. In some cases, after the first symptoms go away, a second wave of symptoms occurs one to four hours later.

*Caution: When looking for a crab substitute to use in these recipes, read the ingredient statement to find imitation crab that does not include any real crab. If you have concerns, contact the manufacturer.

What are businesses/food manufacturers doing to avoid reactions?

A variety of codes and standards have been set for food manufacturing. These businesses must avoid cross-contact of foods. Many labels state the other foods made in the factory. Restaurants may label their menu with items free of certain allergens.

How do I test for allergies?

If done right, skin or blood tests are reliable and can help you determine whether you have a food allergy.

What is the best treatment for a severe reaction to a food allergy?

Severe reactions require immediate medical intervention, so call 911. Epinephrine is the first-line treatment for anaphylaxis, a rare but severe whole-body allergic reaction that causes severe symptoms, including tightening of the airway. After a food allergy diagnosis is made, your allergist likely will prescribe an epinephrine auto-injector and teach you how to use it.


Key to abbreviations:

c. = cup

oz. = ounce

lb. = pound

Tbsp. = tablespoon

tsp. = teaspoon

g = gram

mg = milligram

Note: Be sure to check the ingredient statements on food package labels to avoid allergens in these recipes.

Imitation Crab Dip (Shellfish-free)

Imitation Crab Dip (Shellfish-free)
Photo Credit:
NDSU Extension
Imitation Crab Dip (Shellfish-free)

2½ tsp. mayonnaise

2 Tbsp. onion powder

1 Tbsp. garlic powder

1 Tbsp. lemon juice

1 Tbsp. water

¼ tsp. kosher salt

½ tsp hot pepper sauce or cayenne, optional

1 (8-oz.) package low-fat cream cheese, cubed and softened

1 lb. imitation crab meat, chopped

In a microwavable bowl, combine all ingredients except for imitation crab meat. Microwave in 30- to 60-second increments, stirring in between, until warmed through. Stir to combine well. Stir in imitation crab meat. Mix well. Microwave two minutes or until hot. Add kosher salt or cayenne pepper to taste. Serve hot with crackers, breads or veggies.

Makes 10 servings. Each serving has 80 calories, 4 g fat, 4 g protein, 8 g carbohydrate, 0 g fiber and 300 mg sodium.

Zucchini “Crab” Cakes (Shellfish-free)

Zucchini “Crab” Cakes (Shellfish-free)
Photo Credit:
NDSU Extension
Zucchini “Crab” Cakes (Shellfish-free)

2 c. grated zucchini (including skin)

¼ tsp. kosher salt

1 c. bread crumbs, crushed fine

1 egg

1 Tbsp. mayonnaise

1 tsp. Old Bay seasoning

1 tsp. Dijon mustard

1 handful fresh parsley, chopped

Freshly ground black pepper

2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

Sprinkle the zucchini with salt and toss to combine. Transfer to a colander and allow to drain for 30 minutes. Squeeze out any excess moisture and transfer the zucchini to a large mixing bowl. Add the bread crumbs and toss to combine. In a separate mixing bowl, whisk together the egg, mayonnaise, Old Bay seasoning, mustard and parsley. Pour the wet mixture over the zucchini and bread crumbs. Season with black pepper. Toss to combine until the wet mixture is completely incorporated into the zucchini and bread crumbs. Shape the mixture into six cakes and set aside. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Once the oil is hot, add the cakes to the pan. Cook for four to five minutes on each side, until golden brown. Serve warm with homemade tartar sauce, if desired.

Makes six servings. Each serving has 140 calories, 7 g fat, 4 g protein, 15 g carbohydrate, 0 g fiber and 380 mg sodium.

Crab Pasta Salad (Shellfish-free)

Crab Pasta Salad (Shellfish-free)
Photo Credit:
NDSU Extension
Crab Pasta Salad (Shellfish-free)

1 lb. medium pasta shells

1 (8-oz.) package imitation crab meat, cut bite sized

1 (5-oz.) can medium black olives, sliced

1 medium red bell pepper, diced

3 or 4 green onions, sliced thin about 2 inches into the green

3 stalks of celery, diced

1½ c. plain nonfat yogurt

¼ c. fat-free mayonnaise

½ Tbsp. Spike (found in the spice aisle)

¼ tsp. celery salt

1 Tbsp. prepared yellow mustard

½ Tbsp. soy sauce

¼ c. Italian vinaigrette salad dressing

Cook pasta according to package instructions. Drain and rinse with cold water. In a very large bowl, mix the pasta, crab, olives, red peppers, green onions and celery. In a small bowl, whisk together the yogurt, mayo, Spike, celery salt, yellow mustard, soy sauce and salad dressing. Pour the dressing over the pasta and veggies and stir to combine. Refrigerate at least two hours before serving.

Makes 12 servings. Each serving has 220 calories, 4 g fat, 8 g protein, 36 g carbohydrate, 1 g fiber and 580 mg sodium.

More Information

Visit the U.S. Department of Agriculture Food and Nutrition Information Center at https://www.nal.usda.gov/legacy/fnic/allergies-and-food-sensitivities.

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