Food workers at greater risk of developing allergy

Many studies have explored the role of a compromised skin barrier in the development of food allergy in children, but few have looked at this route of sensitisation in adults. A recent paper has documented development of food allergy among kitchen workers with hand eczema after direct contact exposure to foods.

Almost 1,600 kitchen workers and over 1,900 household food handlers (eg. housewives) in Japan were surveyed via a web-based questionnaire to explore the association between the presence and severity of hand eczema and the incidence of food allergy.

Those with more severe hand eczema were more likely to suffer from allergic symptoms to foods, and to have been diagnosed with food allergy. Kitchen workers were more likely to have both hand eczema and a diagnosed food allergy than household food handlers.

While the incidence of hand eczema was similar (32.3% in food workers vs 29.9% among household food handlers), the incidence of diagnosed food allergy among food workers was almost 10% compared to only 4% among household food handlers.

Four individual foods were included in the study to assess associations between hand eczema and allergy symptoms to specific foods. Significant associations were found for shrimp/crab, fish and eggs, but not for the birch pollen-related allergen, apple.

Given the high number of people employed as food workers around the world the findings of this study suggest that controlling occupational hand eczema will be important for the prevention of adult food allergy.

Reference: Minami et al. 2017. Allergology International. DOI: 10.1016/j.alit.2017.08.005

This paper is available with Open Access.