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Friday, 17 December, 1999, 00:04 GMT
Allergy warning over processed food

allergy test Allergy tests uncover potential reactions

People with an allergy to dairy products could be suffering unnecessarily because of the presence of hidden extracts in fish and meat products.

The inclusion of casein - a milk protein - in foods made of restructured meat and fish can cause people with an allergy to go into anaphylaxis, an allergic reaction which includes symptoms such as vomiting, facial swelling and diarrhoea.

Nut allergies are a big thing, but casein and milk proteins are not given that much attention
Dr Marianne Frieri
The danger of casein has been highlighted in the Lancet medical journal by Dutch scientists who investigated the case of a woman who ate a pre-packaged salmon sandwich.

The 30-year-old woman developed itching, nausea and abdominal pain within an hour of eating the sandwich.

She went to the casualty department of her local hospital after self-treatment failed to work and was given intravenous drugs.

Dr Stef Koppelman studied the sandwich at the TNO Nutrition and Food Institute and discovered the presence of casein, which is used as binding protein and has previously been uncovered in foods such as hot dog sausages.

Though the concentration of casein in the salmon was as little as 0.1%, meaning around 50mg of the protein would have been ingested by the woman, this would be enough for an reaction in severely allergic patients.

Importance of labelling

Dr Koppelman said an enzyme that links with proteins has recently been marketed to restructure fish and meat products.

He added: "This case illustrates the importance of proper ingredient labelling, especially when food allergens are involved. For the applied production process, an alternative that does not contain casein is also available, thus preventing unexpected allergic reactions."

Dr Marianne Frieri, chair of the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology's adverse reactions to food committee, said: "Putting in a component of milk protein could cause anaphylaxis. Nut allergies are a big thing, but casein and milk proteins are not given that much attention."

Better labelling and more public awareness of the problem were needed, she added.

A spokeswoman for Bird's Eye, a major producer of packaged foods, said: "We are aware of casein - it is a naturally occurring part of milk and where there is milk in a product, it will be in a label.

"We are very, very aware of allergy issues and we do label."

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Anaphylactic shock

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