This histological and immunohistochemical study of 6 food handlers affected by immediate contact dermatitis due to foods shows that apparently normal skin of patients with this condition presents several histological and immunohistochemical abnormalities. Skin biopsies of normal hand skin showed focal parakeratosis and moderately dense dermal infiltrates. Immunohistochemistry showed an increased number of Langerhans cells in the epidermis and in the superficial dermis and a mononuclear dermal infiltrate consisting of peripheral T lymphocytes with a CD4/CD8 ratio of 5-6/1. Biopsies of the immediate vesicular reactions induced by foods showed spongiotic vesicles within the epidermis and a moderate to dense mononuclear dermal perivascular infiltrate. The immunohistochemical features were similar to those described in apparently normal skin. The mechanism of this immediate vesicular reaction requires further research. The rapid appearance of the lesions (after 20-30 min) probably excludes an immunological cell-mediated pathogenesis. A non-immunological mechanism due to direct liberation of mediators by foods is more readily conceivable than an immediate immunological type of contact reaction.