Fish allergy? Beware of Fish Sauce – The Food Sensitive Shopper

Example fish sauce products

I recently read an article in Bon Appetit magazine when I was sitting in a doctor’s office.  In it was their ‘Seal of Approval’ top 50 food products.  As you may now realize I like lists so seeing their top 50 recommendations for food products with their ‘Seal of Approval’ peaked my interest.  When I read food magazines I always look for information that would translate to food allergy and gluten free safety.  This article did not disappoint.  One of the top 50 was fish sauce.    Here’s the link to the list –

According to the article fish sauce is the ‘in’ sauce to use in marinades, brines, sauces, and so on…while soy sauce is ‘out’.  Unfortunately, you have to subscribe to Bon Appetit to read the article even online.   Next time I am there I will beg them to let me have the issue (or maybe give them $)

What is ‘fish’ sauce?

Fish sauce is made of fermented fish.  That may sound kind of yucky but it really adds flavor to soups, stews, and many Asian based recipes for those who are not allergic.

Avoiding Fish Sauce

Since fish is one of the most common allergies in the U.S. I thought it appropriate to talk about fish sauce and how it will effect our readers who have this food allergy.   I have created a list of things to do to help you avoid accidental ingestion next time you purchase carry out food, go to a restaurant,  purchase prepared food at a grocery store, go to a friend’s (or family member’s) house for dinner, or attend a catered event.  Remember, if in doubt don’t eat it…only you can make the decision whether a food is safe.  Here’s my list….

1. Read every label that is available.  If you can’t read it don’t eat it.  (that is my favorite rhyming phrase to help others learn food allergy safety)

2.  Ask the chef, restaurant or cafeteria manager, caterer, friend, relative, loved one, or whoever is preparing your food whether ‘fish sauce’ was an ingredient.  That includes Worcestershire sauce too because it contains fish sauce.  Be sure to communicate that fish sauce can be used in brine, marinades, and sauces.  Ask whether whether any these contain fish sauce or Worcestershire sauce.

3.  If you call ahead (we highly recommend you do this) to a restaurant or wherever you are going out to eat ask that they research their ingredients for fish sauce.

Here is my story about not calling ahead…I actually ordered an entree from a fast food restaurant (chicken dish) and asked whether it contained gluten.  Their menu said no and so did the manager and counter help.  Then I saw their allergens chart which said if an entree contained gluten is contained soy.  I did not ask about soy but should have and had already paid.  So I drove home; called the corporate office and had them look up every ingredient in the sauce.   They even looked up the label of the Worcestershire sauce and read them to me.  Now that is service! …and I could enjoy my lunch without the fear that I would feel lousy later on that day into the next.  The lesson for me when trying a new restaurant is to pick up the menu, ask questions, call corporate or the manager if more questions arise then be a patron if the food is safe for me to eat.

4.  When you are faced with doubt from the wait staff, kitchen staff, or manager about a menu option take that as a hint that the food may be cross contaminated with allergens.  Ask for recommendations for a safe item.  If you get a ‘doe in the headlights’ look or a quick dismissal  (like ‘oh yea, it’s safe’) without giving you extra information then you may want to eat somewhere else.

5.  Ask about how they avoid cross contact with allergens to check their level of awareness and procedures.  Example questions –  Are separate clean utensils used in preparing, cooking and serving the food? Has any product with fish sauce, Worcestershire sauce, or actual fish been fried in the fryer?  Grilled on the grill?

6.  If you feel comfortable with the information given and the level of care given by the wait staff and others your next step is to ask if you can ‘special’ order such as; ‘grill a chicken breast in a clean pan with only olive oil and serve with clean serving utensil.’  The wait staff should write down your specific order.  How else will the kitchen staff know what to do?

Need help with ordering or giving your allergen information to wait staff and the chef?   Go to:  for free chef cards to download and print.

Be careful and proactive.  You are your own best advocate.

Category: Food

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