Types of Meat Allergy

While uncommon, symptoms can range from mild to serious

Woman chooses meat in the store
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Food allergies are relatively common, affecting up to eight percent of children and two percent of adults. The most common include cow's milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, soy, wheat, shellfish, and fish. Many adults also have oral allergy syndrome in which a pollen allergy can cause a cross-reactive reaction to certain fruits or vegetables.

Meat is a less likely cause of a food allergy. Part of this is due to the fact that, whenever meat is cooked, many of the proteins that trigger an allergy (called allergens) are broken down and made inert.

With that being said, meat allergies can and do occur. They typically happen in one of two ways:

  • Immediate reactions are those that occur within minutes of eating meat and can range in severity from mild to life-threatening. Symptoms may include itchiness, hives (urticaria), nausea, vomiting, respiratory distress, rapid heart rate, swelling (angioedema), and, in severe cases, anaphylaxis.
  • Delayed reactions tend to occur hours after a person has eaten. They are typically milder, manifesting with hives, rash, and gastrointestinal symptoms. While rare, anaphylaxis can also occur. These include conditions like food protein-induced enterocolitis syndrome (FPIES).

Beef Allergy

While a meat allergy can involve any type of meat protein, beef is, by far, the most common. Beef allergies affect up to 20 percent of children, particularly those who are prone to atopic dermatitis. Of these, up to 93 percent will have a milk allergy.

People with a beef allergy may also be allergic to beef gelatin commonly used in certain vaccines.

Poultry Allergy

Allergic reactions to poultry are even less common than those involving meat. If allergies do occur, it is usually the result of undercooked chicken, turkey, or other wild or farmed poultry.

Some people with an egg allergy may also have a cross-reactive condition known as bird-egg syndrome in which exposure to down feathers can cause respiratory symptoms (such as allergic rhinitis or asthma). Interestingly enough, the condition is associated with chicken eggs but not the chicken itself.

Pork Allergy

Allergies to pork and wild boar meat are not uncommon. Many cases involve a cross-reactive response to cats. Known as pork-cat syndrome, the allergy is triggered the similar molecular structure of cat and pork albumin.

While people allergic to pork are typically allergic to cats, the opposite is not true. As such, the cat allergy is considered the true allergy, while the pork allergy is the cross-reactive response.

Alpha-Gal Allergy

Galactose-alpha-1,3-galactose (also known as alpha-gal) is a naturally occurring antibody found in all mammals apart from Old World monkeys, apes, and humans. Alpha-gal can interact with carbohydrates found in meat and lead to whole-body itching, hives, rash, swelling, and stomach upset. Symptoms usually appear three to eight hours after a person has eaten.

Alpha-gal is believed by some to be transferred to human by ticks, including the lone star tick indigenous to the eastern and southern United States. The allergy itself is often referred to as mammalian meat allergy (MMA).

Traditional allergy tests to beef, pork, and lamb are often negative in people with MMA. Because of this, the diagnosis would require blood tests to confirm the presence of alpha-gal antibodies.

View Article Sources
  • Commins, S. and Platts-Mills, T. "Delayed Anaphylaxis to Red Meat in Patients with IgE Specific for Galactose alpha-1,3-Galactose (alpha-gal)." Curr Allergy Asthma Rep 2013; 13(1):72-7. DOI: 10.1007/s11882-012-0315-y.
  • Hemmer, W.; Klug, C.; and Swoboda, I. "Update on the bird-egg syndrome and genuine poultry meat allergy." Allergo J Int. 2016; 25:68-75. DOI: 10.1007/s40629-016-0108-2.
  • Wang, J. and Sampson, H. "Food Allergy." J Clin Invest. 2011; 121(3):827-35. DOI: 10.1172/JCI45434.