We get several calls a year at www.coastofmaine.com from gardeners who are concerned about exposing themselves, or their loved ones, to possible shellfish allergens.
People who are allergic to shellfish are actually reacting to a muscle protein, called a tropomyosin, in the shrimp, crab or lobster. It’s not the shells that cause allergies. According to an article in the N.Y. Times citing research in India and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, tropomyosins are in all muscle tissue and there are specific variations within different groups of animals. https://www.nytimes.com/1993/12/28/health/studies-unmask-protein-culprit-behind-allergy-to-shrimp.html
Shellfish tropomyosin may cause various allergic reactions in some people, just as proteins found in milk, grains or peanuts affect others.
The good news is we’ve never had a single call from anyone reacting to our lobster compost and here’s why: By the time the composting process is complete, there’s no protein left! Composting is a systematic biological degradation of the “food” in the mix. If you have a compost recipe including lobster shell residuals and wood shavings, it’s a full meal for the composting microbes. They will “eat” the protein to get nitrogen to build their own proteins and consume the carbon-rich wood shavings to power their activities. Lots of heat, moisture, and gases are released in the process…. That’s why active compost piles are hot and steamy.
When choosing what to “eat” first, the compost microbes go for the low hanging fruit first – The proteins and sugars. The proteins in a finished and stable shellfish compost are long gone, so grab that bag of Quoddy Lobster Compost and make your vegetable garden happy!
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We recently used the Lobster compost in our school garden.
A couple of students broke out to hives. In an effort to determine the source I came upon this site. I am reassured by your explanation that our produce will be safe to eat for those with shellfish allergies, however are there traces of protein in compost that would make the Gardner with shellfish allergy susceptible?
Thank you for the note and your concerns. We compost to strict standards and it takes 8 to 9 months to make out lobster compost. Anytime you are composting outdoors in large windrows there is always a chance of nature impacting things. Chances are extremely thin that the shellfish protein would make it through that process but it certainly could happen and we simply suggest that those with shellfish allergies avoid using our lobster compost.