Otto Von Bismarck had a jaded view of both government and of food processing. He supposedly said, “Laws are like sausages. No one who cares about either government or food should watch them being made.” We have certainly had a series of lessons recently about the unseemliness of the legislative process. An article in the new journal In Practice from the editors of the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology has new given us a glimpse into the sausage-making process, or perhaps more accurately, the salami-making process.
Several European doctors Sian Ludman, Yannick Perrin, Jean-Christoph Caubet, and Jacqueline Wassenberg, tell about two boys who reacted to eating salami. The first was a 5-year-old boy with atopic dermatitis, seasonal allergic rhinitis, and pollen-food syndrome and no history of b-lactam allergy who developed urticaria and swollen eyelids shortly after eating a generic supermarket brand of salami that he had not previously ingested. The second was 10, with peanut allergy, seasonal allergic rhinitis, atopic dermatitis, and sensitization to dust mites, and no history of antibiotic allergy developed chest pain and the “sensation of food blockage” after eating a different brand of salami. He had previously experienced similar feelings after eating Raclette cheese, a type of “semi-firm” cheese popular in Switzerland, France and Germany. “Both children tolerated the foods listed as ingredients in these salamis (including pork, beef, salt, skimmed milk powder, sugar, spices, pepper, garlic, ascorbic acid, sodium nitrite, potassium nitrite).”
In the first boy, however, skin prick tests for the food ingredients—solutions of pork, milk, and wheat–were negative. Prick-to-prick testing with the actual salami meat was also negative. Testing with skin of the salami, however, was positive.
In the second boy, “Skin prick testing was negative to the foods listed as ingredients in the salami and Aspergillus. Prick- to-prick testing was negative to salami meat, but positive to the skin of the salami with a 9-mm wheal.”
It turns out that the skin of both salamis contained a mold called Penicillium chrysogenum/notatum, which was discovered by none other than Alexander Fleming himself, and which was later cultured into penicillin. It is sprayed onto sausage and salami skins, and, significantly, to the rinds of Raclette cheeses because it prevents nastier molds from forming.
Mold is a culprit in many cases of environmental allergies. It makes houses uninhabitable for some and makes it impossible for others to enjoy a good walk in the woods. But as with penicillin itself, the properties that make penicillium chrysogenum/notatum useful for killing certain organisms can also provoke the immune system when eaten.
When we think of the dangers of processed food in this era of genetically modified organisms, high-fructose corn syrup, and partial hydrogenization, salami and cheese are probably not the first two things that come to mind. Maybe they should be on this list.
Salami photo by schweizerfleisch.ch
Raclette cheese photo by warmvanillasugar.com
Penicillium chrysogenum photo by inspq.qc.ca