Last updated: 01.08.19

Alpha-gal allergy – the symptoms and causes

What is an Alpha-gal allergy?

More commonly known as meat allergy or mammalian meat allergy (MMA), an alpha-gal allergy is a form of food allergy which is triggered by red meats. This type of food allergy appears to be on the rise around the globe, so we’ve compiled a quick guide on what the allergy is, what the symptoms of alpha-gal allergies are and what the cause of alpha-gal allergy is.

What is a food allergy reaction?

Food allergies are surprisingly common, with at least 1 in 20 people having at least one. They can range from being fairly minor irritations that you might not even be aware of, to the triggers of life-threatening illnesses. One of the more interesting points about allergies is that, while more common in children and infants, they can develop at any age. And it’s entirely possible to become allergic to a food that you’ve eaten all your life, including things like shellfish, milk, eggs and nuts. As a result, it’s important for people to have a basic understanding of allergies and how they can manifest.

Get the latest Food hygiene and food allergy resources with Virtual College. Click Here to View

What are Alpha-gal Allergy Symptoms

Compared to other types of food allergies, the symptoms of an alpha-gal allergic reaction can take a while to develop. When looking at reactions to common food allergens like peanuts or shellfish, the signs of an allergic reaction will typically develop within minutes of consuming the allergen. However, with alpha-gal reactions to consuming red meat, it can take anywhere between three hours and six hours before symptoms start to show up. These symptoms might include:

  • Itchiness and/or dry, scaly skin (similar to eczema)
  • Sneezing
  • Headaches
  • Swelling (lips, face, tongue, throat, etc.)
  • Difficulty breathing or short of breath
  • Abdominal pain
  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Anaphylaxis, a severe, potentially deadly allergic reaction that restricts breathing

Looking for Food Allergen Training? Virtual College offers a wide range of food hygeine training. Click Here to find out more.

What can Cause an Alpha-gal allergy?

The cause of alpha-gal allergy is normally through a particular type of tick bite which transfers a carbohydrate which develops antibodies which result in the allergic reaction when consuming red meat. This is essentially reprogramming the immune response of the body to react when a person eats red meat.

Typically, these bites are picked up while hiking in wooded areas or by the ticks being picked up by pets when they’re investigating the outdoors before unknowingly bringing the ticks back to their owners.

Top Food Allergy FAQs

What are the required label elements?

Prepackaged food needs to have an ingredients list that emphasises allergenic ingredients, for example by making them bold. If there is a risk of cross-contamination in the production process, the packaging needs to say that it ‘may contain x’ or is ‘not suitable for someone with x allergy’.

What are three things required on a workplace label?

The three things that need to be on a WHMIS workplace label are the product name (matching the one included on the Safety Data Sheet); safe handling precautions, which may include pictograms or other supplier label information; and a reference to the Safety Data Sheet.

What information has to be on a food label?

The product name, safe handling precautions, which may include pictograms or other supplier label information; and a reference to the Safety Data Sheet should be included on a food label.

What information would you find on a Whmis label?

There are two types of WHMIS label used: a supplier label and a workplace label. Supplier labels must include a pictogram hazard symbol, a signal word, and statements about the nature of the hazard and precautions that can be taken. Workplace labels include product name; safe handling precautions, which may include pictograms or other supplier label information; and a reference to the Safety Data Sheet.

Click here to visit our full FAQ Hub

For more information on food allergies, including the most common food allergies that need to be outlined in accordance with the listed Food Standards Agency allergens, then take a look at our food allergy awareness course and other food industry related courses.

Related resources