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Social Media Influencer Keith Lee Allergic Reaction Brings Food Allergy Risks to Public Attention

Posted in Food Allergens,Food Allergy,Our Blog on April 2, 2024

Tik Tok social media influencer Keith Lee brought public attention to food allergy risks in a recent trip to the Bay Area. A trip that usually produces dozens of videos highlighting local restaurants per city was cut short after he became seriously ill from cross-contamination with shellfish.

Who is Keith Lee?

Keith Lee is a 27-year old former MMA fighter who has made a name for himself in the food critic game. This social media influencer has 16 million followers and uses this status to help bring attention to the amazing local restaurants that don’t normally get media attention.

Using a 10-point scale he rates and describes his experience and documents it on his platform. What started out as a funny way to document his pregnant wife’s “hyper-specific food cravings” turned into a successful business opportunity for the now social media star.

He explains that he usually doesn’t spotlight his bad experiences, choosing to take a positive spin. If he has a bad experience, he usually just doesn’t include it in his videos.

The exception to that stance happened on a recent trip to the Bay Area.

Keith Lee Has a Well-Known Food Allergy

When you are a food critic and social media influencer, your personal information becomes fairly well known. Just as any regular person has certain questions about a dish due to a food allergy, Keith Lee’s situation is no different.

If you have followed Keith Lee for even a short amount of time, you may have picked up that he has a shellfish allergy.

He is not alone in this. In fact, shellfish is one of the leading causes of food allergic reactions in the United States. With 3% of adults and 1% of children suffering from shellfish allergies, chances are someone you know also must deal with this issue.

Trip to Bay Area Cut Short Due to Allergic Reaction

Keith Lee’s foodie trip to the Bay Area was cut short due to negative experiences and a trip to the ER following an allergic reaction.

In his video he explains his experience in the city by the bay. Without giving the name of the establishment, he explains that he asked about their kitchen practices prior to ordering because the restaurant had seafood offerings. He “specifically asked if they cooked it on the same grill. They said yes, but they would clean it.”

What happened next proved that their methods were not successful. “The second I ate it, I blew up like a balloon,” he said.

Lee ended up in the emergency room and required a steroid shot and allergy medication. Ultimately, it cut his trip short.

What is a Shellfish Allergy?

People with a shellfish allergy can have a sensitivity or allergic reaction to one or more foods in what is considered the shellfish family.

The shellfish family includes:

  • Shrimp
  • Crab
  • Lobster
  • Clam
  • Oyster
  • Mussels

Some people are allergic to only one of these foods, while others are allergic to more than one or all of them.

It is unclear what shellfish Keith Lee encountered, however it was enough for him to experience severe symptoms.

What are the Symptoms of a Seafood Allergy

Keith Lee’s reaction appears to include swelling, based on the information he provided in the video. However, people have a wide range of responses when it comes to shellfish allergies.

In some cases, shellfish allergic people develop mouth and throat itching, lip swelling, and skin reactions such as skin redness, hives, and/or puffy eyes.

Others, however, may experience serious or life-threatening allergic reactions like anaphylaxis. Symptoms of anaphylaxis may include dizziness, vomiting, fainting, and/or trouble breathing due to constricted airways. Without immediate treatment, anaphylaxis can lead to death.

What Causes a Shellfish Allergy

Shellfish allergies, like other food allergies, result from an immune system overreaction.

The immune system’s job is to defend against foreign invaders, such as bacteria or viruses. Food allergies occur when the body interprets a food substance as a foreign invader. Not only does the immune system respond to the perceived threat, it often overreacts. This creates the symptoms generally experienced during an allergic reaction.

In shellfish, there are at least 49 known crustacean allergens and eight known molluscan allergens. However, the protein tropomyosin is the most well-known and studied allergens. While it is a common shellfish allergen, it is also found in arthropods such as house dust mites and cockroaches.

For this reason, many people who have a shellfish allergy also have a dust mite allergy.

How Are Shellfish Allergies Diagnosed?

Keith Lee doesn’t go into how he was diagnosed with a shellfish allergy. It is possible he discovered this affliction by consuming something and having a reaction to it. This is the way many people discover food allergies.

When the source of an allergic reaction isn’t clear, healthcare professionals look to diagnostic tests to confirm specific allergens.

Tests for food allergies may include:

  • Skin prick test
  • Blood test for shellfish allergens and tropomyosin
  • Oral food challenges

Skin Prick Tests

Skin prick tests involve microinjections of allergens placed in a grid on the patient’s skin. This is usually done on the arm or the back, depending on the extent of the testing being performed. If the patient reacts to a skin prick test, they are likely allergic to that allergen. It isn’t always conclusive though.

Blood Tests

In some cases, blood tests are performed. These tests check for antigens in the blood known to react to shellfish allergens and/or tropomyosin.

Oral Food Challenges

While resource-intensive, blind food challenges remain the “gold standard” for food allergy diagnosis. This process involves consuming a small amount of food under observation at a medical facility. The patient slowly consumes larger and larger amounts of the tested food under medical supervision to determine if a patient is allergic to it.

Have You Become Sick After Declaring a Food Allergy?

People who have food allergies, particularly those with serious reactions, must be vigilant in food choices. Especially when eating outside of the home.

Have you found yourself in a situation like Keith Lee, where you declared a food allergy and a food business assured you of the dish’s safety?

Some people are lucky enough to recover with an epi pen, others require significant medical intervention. Others still may die from the unfortunate lapse in cross-contamination protocols.

If you have been sickened or injured as a result of a declared food allergy, you may have a legal case. The experienced Food Poisoning lawyers at The Lange Law Firm, PLLC have a proven track record of holding responsible those liable for foodborne illness.

Contact The Lange Law Firm by phone at (833) 330-3663 or click here to email.

By: Heather Van Tassell (contributing writer, non-lawyer)