Occupational protein contact dermatitis in food handlers

Contact Dermatitis. 1976 Feb;2(1):28-42. doi: 10.1111/j.1600-0536.1976.tb02975.x.


The preparation of food in restaurant kitchens carries a high risk of occupational dermatoses. Analysis of 33 cases revealed four different etiological types. Simple irritant dermatitis was rare (2 cases), plain contact dermatitis was more common (6 cases). Fifteen patients had relevant patch tests and scratch tests; ten had positive scratch tests only to explain the cause of their dermatitis. The last type was termed protein contact dermatitis. The major type IV allergens incriminated were metals, onion and garlic. The major proteinaceous allergens indicated by history and test results were fish and shell-fish. Open patch tests with the incriminated foods may cause erythema or oedema on normal skin after 20 minutes. Previously eczematous, now normal looking, skin often responds with a crop of dyshidrotic vesicles preceded by erythema and itching 30 minutes after the application of an open test. Examination for specific IgE is not always positive in such cases. Inhalant allergy was rare. The results indicate that food handlers are sensitized by the protein they touch, and then react to later contact with the proteins. Protein contact dermatitis is similarly common among veterinary surgeons, while the importance in other occupational groups remains to be studied.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Allergens
  • Child
  • Denmark
  • Dermatitis, Contact / etiology*
  • Dermatitis, Occupational / etiology*
  • Female
  • Fish Products
  • Food Handling*
  • Garlic
  • Humans
  • Immunoglobulin E
  • Meat
  • Metals
  • Middle Aged
  • Patch Tests
  • Plants, Medicinal
  • Proteins / immunology*
  • Radioallergosorbent Test


  • Allergens
  • Metals
  • Proteins
  • Immunoglobulin E